From the Board: Owen Lee, Col (USA, Medical Corps, Retired), MD, RLF Board Vice Chair

 

Col. (Ret.) Lee, Vice-Chair of the RLF Board, served 22 years in the US army reserve from a private enlisted soldier during the Vietnam War era to a Colonel as an AMEDD officer, until his retirement in 2010. Additionally, as an Interventional Radiologist, he has worked at Licking Memorial Hospital in Newark, Ohio for many years. Lee has always felt a close bond to his band of brothers and veterans that served in the military.

 

Practicing medicine and serving in the military are the two significant achievements in my life. Medicine was already a part of my life as I grew up with an invalid father. My mother took on the role as the sole bread earner for our family. She was fortunate to be able to work at the USIS library in my native country Burma. Little did we know that her 19 years of service would allow us to emigrate to a new country called USA.

In 1962 a coup by the Burmese military overthrew the civilian government. I found myself in school being indoctrinated with socialism, and all private enterprise overnight became state property. The freedom that we all took for granted disappeared with the military junta which ruled the country for the next 50 years. They still rule with a quasi-civilian government. The Burmese jails were filled with students, journalists and political opponents who publicly disagreed with the military junta.

During my teenage years I knew a war was going on in Vietnam. It was only two countries away. That Vietnam War became more personal when my draft number was 21. Although not a citizen yet, I was going to serve in the US military. I was a student at University of Maryland and saw antiwar protests on campus and huge crowds of antiwar protestors converging in the D.C. area. That fall, 1972, I was called to basic combat training in Ft. Polk and later Army Medic training in San Antonio, Texas. The Vietnam War was unpopular and it was soon erased in public memory, along with the valor of the soldiers who paid with their lives and health. I still see patients who suffer from PTSD from that war and only lately from Agent Orange; its adverse health effects now being acknowledged by the VA administration.

Political events change our lives, and 9/11 was that event for many of us. When I was in advanced officer training before 9/11, I saw footage of the operations in Somalia and of the gaping hole on the side of the USS Cole destroyer. I knew then that our soldiers would be called to fight an “asymmetrical” warfare. We would have to follow rules while the enemy does not have any rules. The stress on our soldiers would be high as they engaged our enemies who use civilians, even women and children, to their advantage.

I was in Ft. Hood, Texas, at Darnell Army Hospital serving with the First Calvary Division. We lost many soldiers in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those that survive deal with the lingering effects of IEDs and PTSD. As a radiologist I am aware of the trauma from these IEDs and their effect on the brain. Some of these effects cause us to continue to lose our veteran soldiers through suicide, drug use and incarceration. It is in my DNA, and my calling in life, to take care of our soldiers.

Serving on the Board of Directors at RLF seems to be an extension of my interest. I hope to increase understanding and awareness of TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and PTSD in the community by serving on the Board. I hope also to educate the community and research the most effective treatment for those two areas that effect our soldiers. I am actively involved with the local Gulf War Veterans group “Buddy Group of Licking County” and WW II group “Battle of the Bulge Association.” By being engaged with these veterans’ groups I hope to bring to the Board perspectives from the veterans on how best to meet their needs and also how RLF can reach its objectives.