Monday, February 7, 2011


After five days of processing at Fort Benning and another day of delay due to the snow I returned home on February 03, 2011.

I had been on active duty a total of 112 day.  This was a very long time to be away from family and my practice but I couldn't help think of the soldiers who have had deployments that lasted over a year and many of them had several deployments. 

The war in Afghanistan & Iraq has been going on for so many years it was all starting to feel like it was  yesterdays news.  I found the very thought of tuning out of a war was particularly frightening and especially unfair to the many thousands of soldiers who are still there. 

Although I was in a combat zone that could be hit by rockets or mortars I generally didn't have to go on missions outside of the wire looking for the enemy.  During my mobilization and training I met countless soldiers that were on combat teams headed for dangerous missions and I think about them every day.

This was a difficult but a memorable ordeal.   Interestingly, I think deploying as a physician would have been more difficult to do after finishing residency when my children were very young, which is when most military physicians are sent on their first (of many) deployments.  I think it's actually easier when your children are older and I've pointed this out to the army and the recruiters.  I also remember being tempted to use my age as an excuse not to join but I know that would have been a rationalization that I couldn't of lived with.  

While being apart from my family and away from my patients was difficult the most enjoyable part of the deployment was, without any doubt, simply being close to the other soldiers on this mission and being there to provide medical care to our troops.  I did love & cherished being able to make some contribution to a very difficult war that has gone on too long.

My enlistment with the Massachusetts National Guard is not yet over and next month I'll be back at my monthly drill.

This will be my final blog edition.

Major Martin Lesser         

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Last Wednesday, 01/26/2010 I flew from Tallil Air Force Base, Iraq to Ali Al Salem Air Force Base, in Kuwait.  I'm assigned a bunk in a tent where I will sleep while waiting for my flight home that departs Saturday night. I can't believe that after working for almost 100 days in Iraq without a day off I now have two days with nothing to do except get ready for this flight.  Working endlessly with very little rest and then having nothing to do for days has always been standard operating procedure (SOP) in the military.

The flight home is on a real commercial jet chartered by the military which leaves from the Kuwaiti International (Civilian) Airport.  To get there we board a bus for a 45 minute ride through the desert.

Once there we embark on the weekly chartered commercial flight back to the United States, aka The Freedom Flight.  We board the flight in uniform with all our weapons, banners and other equipment and everybody is breathing easier as we take off.  

We make a fuel stop in Germany and fly on to Atlanta and then board buses for the two hour bus ride to Fort Benning. It's about 6:30am Eastern Time when we arrive in Atlanta.  We then assemble in a large auditorium and we're greeted by a delegation that includes a Colonel and a Chaplain who thank us for our service & we're given a picnic style meal.  

The group I flew with are "individual augmentees" which means we're not deploying as part of a large unit, rather we are individually assigned to different units when we reach our assigned unit.  Since none of us are based at Fort Benning there are only a few civilians there to greet us.  They did have some flashing signs and the sounds of Hail to the Chief is played as we enter the auditorium and we're thanked again and again.  This is a huge auditiorium and I've heard that the place is filled when a unit of several hundred soldiers, with families living in the area, return after a deployment of a year.  The scenes are simply emotionally over the top.

If you'd like to see some brief videos of redeployment ceremonies:

We are then taken to a huge warehouse facility to return our equipment and weapons before being taken taken to CRC which stands for CONUS Replacement Center (CONUS stands for Contiguous United States or the 48 states; OCONUS stands for Outside of the Contiguous United States)  where we are billeted for the next several days.  

We are then processed which includes sessions with medical, dental, mental health, audiometry, optometry, mental health, finance, veterans agency etc. Returning soldiers do have slightly higher rates of medical, mental health and family as well as additional problems of unemployment, homelessness, divorce, domestic violence etc.  After we clear all of the above they will buy us an airline ticket home.  Of course everybody wants to get out and get home ASAP so soldiers tend to deny having any needs for services.  Fortunately they know they can get services later through the Veterans Administration. 

At this point I've cleared everything and I'm holding an airline ticket to fly from Atlanta to Bradley/Windsor Locks for tomorrow.

Welcoming us home after our flight at Fort Benning, GA

This deployment was the culmination of my decision three years ago to enlist in the Massachusetts National Guard.  I did this knowing that this was a period of frequent call-ups and deployments because of the conflicts in Afghanistan & Iraq.  It was specifically because we were at war that I felt I should do something when I was asked.  

This has certainly been one of the most momentous decisions of my life which will never be forgoten and will always be a part of my identity and my families identity.  My deployment was possible because of enormous sacrifices made by my wife Joan, my children, my office manager Kelly plus countless others including all my office staff, the many covering medical providers, my neighbors and friends plus a small army of others that helped in countless ways. 

Originally, I decided to write this blog because I was afraid Joan would get swamped by endless calls from people wanting to know how we were doing etc  It appears that the blog did what it was supposed to do and it was generally well received.

I continued the blog because I got the impression that many people were quite interested not only in me but in all our soldiers on deployments.  I was very happy to see this because many people have become disconnected and uninvolved which weakens our democracy.  Apathy is not consistent with good government.   

Infrequently, I've been asked if the deployment was fun and I try to sidestep such questions because I don't feel they are even worthy of an answer.  Hopefully, all the soldiers experienced moments of fun during their deployment but we all experienced far longer periods of sacrifice, danger, boredom and loneliness. More importantly war is not fun and if you're having fun you are tuning out the enormous amount of suffering that is all around you or happened in the recent past.  

Thus far I'm well which is a good thing because I know there will be mountains of work for me to do which I need to start as soon as I'm home.

This deployment & mission is now over for me.  Unfortunately the war continues.

Memorial & Plaque to the fallen soldiers  at Memorial Hall.

Memorial Hall is where all the major entertainment events have been held including Aaron Pipin (Country & Western),  Avenged Sevenfold (Heavy Metal), Fight Night, EnVogue & The Bluenote Gospel Singers.  In front of the structure there is a memorial (boots, bayonet, semiautomatic rifle & helmet) plus a wall that lists the names of several hundred American Soldiers that were killed.  Sadly, the total number of Americans killed in Iraq as of today is 4,436.  Therefore, this listing possibly was made up several years ago and it hasn't been updated.  Another possibility is that this is a listing of only those killed from this region. Nobody seems to know for sure.  

This base is going to be turned over to Iraq by December/2011.  I wonder if the plaque & memorial will be left behind and what it's fate will be.    

Major Martin Lesser

Tuesday, February 1, 2011



The only sanctioned after hours establishment at COB Adder is our gym which stays open 24/7 and does a good job of meeting the needs of a garrison in a combat zone.  Before I arrived, the gym held a contest for the best name for the gym and some creative soldier came up with the brilliant and winning suggestion:  "The House of Pain" which described it perfectly.  Soldiers have to continuously meet physical training standards so one of the first semi-permanent structures that gets built at a base, even in a combat zone, is a gym.  Although aerobic training is also emphasized at a military gym, weight training is more popular and is taken very seriously.

The army actually tries to encourage aerobic training and their Physical Training Test rates soldiers only  for push-ups, sit-ups and a two mile run.  In addition to encouraging aerobic exercise rather than weight lifting, the medical providers try to discourage the use of the ubiquitous body building supplements. However, the demand is enormous and the PX clearly devotes more shelf space for body building supplements than any other product.  Although the products they sell are legal I've seen them cause many medical problems and I discourage their use but I know my comments rarely have any effect.  The bottom line is that many soldiers take their body building (not to mention their tattoos) very seriously.  Military bases used to be able to show movies which were very well attended but now that everybody can watch DVDs on their computers nobody is going to go out to a tent to watch a movie so the gym is by far the most widely used recreational facility. 

Just a few days before I arrived a rocket hit one of the blast walls surrounding the House of Pain.  Fortunately the blast wall absorbed most of the blast but a fair amount of debris came crashing through the roof and there were a few minor injuries.  The damage was quickly repaired and The House of Pain was soon back in business and more popular than ever.  In the case of "The House of Pain" the rocket attack gave it even more of a macho image and if you wanted to be cool that was the place to be.  Besides, we have no other choices anyway.

Weight lifting area at The House of Pain. Weight Lifting Goes on 24/7.

Shabbat at COB Adder & Miscellaneous Pictures

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