He left behind his wife, three sons and his new medical practice to serve for three months in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Now Dr. Bill Sachs, Brainerd, has returned from active duty, becoming the first and only doctor at Brainerd Medical Center to be deployed to serve his country in the War in Iraq.
Sachs, who specializes in gastroenterology and hepatology, started at BMC only six months before he was deployed Jan. 11 to serve as an Army physician in Kuwait. He was one of three doctors and a dentist from Minnesota who became attached to the 161st Area Support Medical Battalion based in Mobile, Ala. Sachs, who has served in the Minnesota Army National Guard for 17 years, is a member of the 1-194th Armor Battalion in Brainerd.
After a brief stay at Fort Bliss in Texas, Sachs was sent for a 90-day deployment to Camp Udairi, a U.S. military encampment located in northwestern Kuwait about 60 miles south of the Iraqi border. Sachs said military physicians serve 90-day tours because of problems that occurred during the first Gulf War. Doctors who were deployed for long periods of service returned home to find they no longer had a viable medical practice, losing many of their patients while they were gone. In order to not lose doctors, the military has a 90-day "Boots on the Ground" policy for its physicians. Sachs and his team were the fourth rotation of physicians at the camp since the war began.
The camp is a staging area for larger military units entering Iraq. The camp's population would fluctuate from 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers but it was at its peak population most of the time Sachs was there because of the heavy troop rotations in Iraq.
Sachs and the medical team worked out of the only physical building in the camp comprised mostly of large tents.
The medical team operated a clinic out of a double-wide mobile home, he said. They worked seven days a week, treating soldiers for everything from injuries to pneumonia and asthma attacks.
"It was a big tent city in the middle of nowhere," said Sachs. "And it was very busy. The big troop rotation made it very busy."
Meanwhile back home in Brainerd, his wife, Kristi, became mom and dad to their three sons, Josh, 13; Justin, 11; and Jared, 8. The boys were able to e-mail their father every day, but he missed out on their many after-school activities and athletic events. Jared said he talked about his dad during show-and-tell one day at school. Sachs celebrated his 34th birthday in Kuwait.
He was able to e-mail digital photos to show his family the desert sand, while his wife e-mailed photos of the Minnesota snow so he could show the Alabama soldiers he was stationed with.
On April 2, Sachs was greeted at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by his family, who had started a countdown the day he left.
"You guys were all taller," said Sachs as he smiled at his sons.
"We mobbed him, pretty much," said Kristi Sachs with a laugh. "We almost knocked him over."
"Yeah," said Justin, when asked if he was proud of his father. "But we missed him more than we were proud."
Now on a much-needed vacation to spend time with his wife and sons, Sachs said he is anxious to get back to work. He returns to BMC on Wednesday.
"It's kind of like starting over again," said Sachs. "I'm enjoying the time off but I'd like to get back into my field."
The Sachs moved to Brainerd about two years ago while Dr. Sachs was finishing his residency and medical training in the Twin Cities. He earned his medical degree at the University of Minnesota.
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