What Veterans Day Means to Me: Forrest Fernandez, MD

November 6th, 2020

By Forrest Fernandez, MD, Trauma Program Medical Director, Grand View Health.

Veterans Day has a long history. Its roots can be traced back to Armistice Day following World War I. Veterans Day has continued in one form or another since then, as a way for the nation to recognize veterans for their service.

My own journey as a veteran started late in life. Though I did have an uncle who was a U.S. Marine and who fought and survived the infamous battle of Iwo Jima, he passed away before I got to know him, and I did not have any other close family members in the military.

I was in the second year of my general surgery residency when Operation Desert Storm began; I made a call to Army recruiters to see if they would benefit from the service of a second-year resident. They thanked me for my interest but stated that they expected the conflict to be short. So, they recommended that I continue with my training and consider joining when my training was complete. I took that advice and continued to pursue my interests in overseas medical relief work in Africa.

Fast forward to Sept. 11, 2001. The attack on the Twin Towers in New York City occurred. By this time, I was a fully trained general surgeon and had been in practice for about six years. I had been to Africa 10 times, working in austere settings in surgical hospitals. Again, I called the Army and asked them if they could use the help of an experienced general surgeon. The recruiters were at my door the next day … and the rest is history.

I spent two tours in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and one tour in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. These experiences not only made me a much better trauma surgeon, but also became the most rewarding of my career. It made me recognize even more the immense sacrifices that our service members make to defend our precious liberties. The freedoms we have are only ours because the “Free-ers” are willing to sacrifice all to preserve it.

I met many fine soldiers, immensely skilled at their craft, and willing to use those skills to preserve our way of life. Indeed, it is a unique role that the trauma surgeon plays in the field of conflict. It takes an immense amount of courage to be willing to go into the fight when the odds are not certain that we will prevail. That uncertainty is overcome by a love of country and for their comrades in arms. That measure of courage, as great as it is, needs to be even greater if the warfighter does not have confidence that the medical elements can rescue them should they be injured in combat. In fact, this was my greatest motivation for joining the military. It seemed to me unconscionable that a U.S. service member would receive treatment at a lower quality of care than is available to a gang-fighter in our urban civilian environment.

We must never forget to thank the “Free-ers” for their service. That service has come at great costs to these service members and their families. Some have paid the ultimate price for that service, and they are honored as our nation’s greatest heroes on Memorial Day. But one does not have to walk the halls of Grand View Health long to run into a “Free-er.” There seems to be a veteran in virtually every setting I work: emergency department, operating room, intensive care unit, medical-surgical unit and almost every support service of the hospital.

Though there are many that entertain the thought of enlisting in the military, far fewer are those that ultimately sign on the dotted line. They are a special breed, willing to risk all to preserve our freedom, to make our own destiny, to speak our mind and to use our skills to preserve a better way of life.

Please join me in saluting all the veterans of Grand View Health that join us each day in pursuing the best possible care and outcomes for the community we serve.