By Mr. Stephen Standifird (Leonard Wood)July 19, 2017
The Army defines personal courage as facing fear, danger or adversity. The Army Value of Personal Courage is built by standing up for and acting upon the things that are honorable and right.
One Fort Leonard Wood officer was demonstrating personal courage long before he raised his right hand and joined the Army, and continues to demonstrate the Army Values in all he does.
Maj. Giovanni Safdari, the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery chief at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, grew up in Iran dreaming of getting the opportunity to serve society.
His father pushed the Family to use higher education to better themselves and those around them. All of his older brothers sought opportunities in the United States, and Safdari wanted to follow. But at 12, he was too young, he said.
It would be two more years before Safdari would be able to join a brother in Memphis, Tennessee; doing so alone to flee the Iranian Revolution that was spreading across the country.
Leaving his home, not speaking the language of his destination, Safdari faced adversity at nearly every turn, including while at school.
"Relationships between me and the students were not good," he said. "It took me probably six to 10 months to be able to carry a conversation with somebody. At times, they probably thought there was something wrong with me."
Safdari added that he was bullied and often changed his route to and from school to avoid potential fights.
His personal courage to continue his education with perfect attendance and limited English skills, drove Safdari to graduate high school at 16. Graduating early gave him the chance to work for a few years to save money so he could fulfill his goal of getting an education, he said.
Going to school from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. left Safdari time to work nights while he earned a degree in electrical engineering.
His goal was always to return to Iran to serve his country, but the Iran-Iraq War was going on, and Safdari had been drafted.
"I dodged the draft," he said. "I really couldn't go back. The plan was for me to come study here and go back. That didn't work out."
With a new degree, a great job, and his parents having moved in with him, Safdari had what he wanted in America. But his parents reminded him he wasn't done.
Safdari recalls his mother saying at an early age, that he wanted to be a doctor, even telling the Family doctor in Iran he would one day take his job.
With the encouragement from his parents, Safdari began his journey to achieve his dream of becoming a doctor.
He started going to school at night after a full day of work, even working on the weekends to help support his parents while saving for school.
It took him three years to complete the prerequisites for medical school and build a comfortable savings to help pay for the next phase of his life -- medical school in Belize.
The adversity piled on while at medical school including a lack of food and a hurricane knocking out the electricity for an extended period and destroying part of the roof of the dormitory. But Safdari endured the two years before going to El Paso, Texas, for his clinical rotations in Juarez, Mexico.
After 18 months in Juarez, Safdari completed his clinical rotations in El Paso, working nearly 40 hours every weekend to finish paying for school.
As graduation approached, Safdari wanted to specialize in head and neck surgery, but the competition for residency programs was strong, he said. He was left with the options of Family practice or internal medicine. Neither option sounded like something he wanted to pursue.
Safdari turned to his time in El Paso for motivation about what to do next. He had done a rotation in oral surgery, found he enjoyed it and decided that was the path for him. During his last semester at medical school, Safdari applied for dental school and was accepted into the Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry in Nashville, Tennessee.
After four more years of school and having not only a doctorate of medicine, but also a doctorate of dental surgery, Safdari wasn't done. He still needed residency time as an oral surgeon, but nothing was available, he said.
With limited opportunity, he took an internship at the University of Missouri-Kansas City to help his chances of being selected. After a year, he applied, and again was not selected. He accepted a teaching position at UMKC before applying again, but this time, he also applied to become an Army oral and maxillofacial surgeon.
"It was unheard of at the time for the Army to take someone from outside the Army," Safdari said. "They have enough Army dentists to apply for the program. It is very competitive and one of the top programs in the country."
Safdari was notified of his opportunity to compete for one of nine available positions by the program director. Within a few days, Safdari had his application together and submitted.
"I was the only civilian that was interviewed," Safdari said. "The colonel who took my application told me that never in the Army have they, among so many qualified applicants, taken somebody from outside the Army."
Safdari said he was not only accepted into the Army, but a civilian program as well. He chose to stick with the Army program because it was a better opportunity for him to serve.
He was sent to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, for training before being sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for his residency. Upon completion of his residency in 2015, Safdari was sent to Fort Leonard Wood.
In his time here, he has not only made an impact on the staff at GLWACH, but the entire post.
"When I tell people where I work, they say 'you are so lucky, the doctor that you work for is so awesome,'" said Shannon Secules, dental assistant who has worked for Safdari since he arrived here. "He is always calm, even in emergency situations. He is always able to calm the most nervous patients."
"Dr. Safdari has been one of the best doctors I have worked for," Secules added.
During his remarks at his own change-of-command ceremony, Brig. Gen. James Raymer, former commandant of the U.S. Army Engineer School, singled out Safdari by name to tell him "thank you."
His journey to Fort Leonard Wood was ripe with adversity and opportunities to settle, but Safdari didn't let anything stand in his way of fulfilling his dreams, he said.
"I am proud to be where I am," he said. "I don't think what happened to me here could have happened in another country."