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How Dr. Alex Garza's military background helped him in the fight against COVID-19

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY ( - Dr. Alex Garza says his work in the military helped prepare him for devising a plan to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Garza, a Maryland Heights native, has been working with the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. He says he has gained valuable and rewarding experiences since joining the military.

"It was extremely interesting and extremely rewarding as a military career, and I think it also helped inform my civilian career.," Garza said.

He joined the US Army Reserves in the late 1990s, during the first year of his medial residency in Kansas City. His father and uncle served in the Korean War, and he says he wanted to be part of something bigger than himself.

"I joined what’s called a Civilian Affairs unit, which is more what we call nation building, we work with host nation countries to build up capacity, so that is what I’ve done throughout my Army career," he said.

In 2003, with a wife and two kids at home, Garza was deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"It was the beginning of that war, and we weren’t really sure what to expect. Were they going to use chemical weapons or what was going on with the terrorist organizations and things like that. So it’s difficult to put into words, but you’re anxious because you don’t know what to expect," Garza said. "My responsibility was to help rebuild healthcare within the central part of the country. I did most of my work in the Suladin province and we were stationed in Tikrit, and I actually lived on one of Saddam’s palaces in Tikrit for a year."

Garza still recalls every detail about his mission, often times being tasked with the unexpected.

"One of the first things that we did was replace the windows in the hospital. The hospital was located next to a hotel, which was on the end to house the actual police force for Saddam Hussein, so when that got bombed during the war, it blew out all of the windows in the hospital," he said.

During his deployment, Garza went beyond rebuilding medical faculties and giving medical treatment, he saw a desperate need for aspiring Iraqi physicians.

"In Iraq, they had one copy of the textbook that people had to copy off of and they had no medical journals, no western medical journals. The reason for this is because Saddam was paranoid about the West influencing the educated group in Iraq," Garza said.

Garza teamed up with WebMD to get textbooks and medical journals to the Iraqi people.

"Pretty soon, my room was filled with boxes of textbooks and journals, and it was really, I think, one of the more gratifying moments of being deployed when we would show up at the library, deliver all of these textbooks and journals, and seeing the faces of all the practitioners and physicians there who hadn’t read a western journal for years," he said.

After more than year in Iraq, Garza came back to the US, rejoining his family. His efforts in the Middle East did not go unnoticed, he received a Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge.

"When I was told I was getting the Bronze Star, I remember asking them for what, and they were like, 'For all the good work you did.' But I was like 'That’s my job," Garza said.

Fast forward nearly 20 years later in the middle of a global pandemic, and Col. Garza would be called on again, deploying to an Army base in Kuwait.

"I went back to my roots in emergency medicine, staffed a what's called a Role Three hospital in Kuwait, Camp Arifjan, a large logistics base, about 10,000 people," he said.

For four months, Garza worked with two other emergency physicians caring for soldiers. All of his military work, he says, is much more than another line on his resume.

Copyright 2021 KMOV. All rights reserved.


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