Family physician returns from Iraq

By Ryan McMaster/Staff Writer

Red, white and blue balloons hung around the back patio at Sansum Clinic Thursday and even the sugar cookies were bathed in the flag’s colors as workers welcomed one of their own back from Iraq.

Dr. Christopher Ryan, a family physician who spent four months as a surgeon on Air Force reserve duty in Iraq, smiled and shook hands as he talked about his time in Iraq, where he worked up to 15 hours a day, six days a week, caring for 20 to 50 patients in the war zone.

“My primary job was to take care of patients from the time of the first-stage surgeon,� Ryan said. “Then we would take them to Germany for their next level of care. I flew with the medevac units.�

He said he witnessed quiet acts of heroism every day.

He recalled overhearing a patient telling his mother that he was coming home after breaking his leg. The soldier did not tell his mother that his injuries were extensive and that he probably would not walk normally again, Ryan said.

Ryan said he felt safe at his base near Baghdad, despite the constant mortar attacks. Buildings and living quarters were surrounded by concrete barriers 20 feet high. His room was in a trailer, and like soldiers, he ate in the mess hall and showered in the same area.

Ryan, with two of his four children in attendance at the Thursday event, was greeted warmly by about 50 people. He spoke briefly, thanking his friends, family and co-workers for welcoming him back. One man approached him and said he, not them, deserved the thanks for serving America in Iraq.

A veteran of 14 years in the military, including a six-year tour as a flight surgeon at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Ryan has been a family practice physician at Sansum Clinic in Lompoc for about a decade.

After serving as a flight surgeon, he joined the Air Force Reserves, which gave him the opportunity last September to serve in Iraq.

“Pretty much everybody in the Air Force volunteered,� he said. “I was very happy to have the opportunity to go.�

He added that though he is not typically a surgeon, he enjoyed the chance to be one overseas.

“I am a family physician,� Ryan said. “A flight surgeon is a misnomer, but they used us in Iraq.�

A doctor since 1992, Ryan finished his active Air Force duty in 2002, but he became aware of the opportunity to serve in Iraq only nine months after joining the reserves.

Ryan said that because he was mostly confined to the hospital wing of his base in Iraq, he didn’t have much dealings with the foreign culture of Iraq.

“I really didn’t have a lot of exposure,â€? he said.

“We did go through cultural training and I met many Iraqi soldiers. By getting a chance to see villages and towns from the air, I saw a little bit of the culture.�

Ryan said he would be willing to make a second trip to Iraq at some point.

“I wouldn’t do it in the next six months, but I could see myself doing something like this again.â€?
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