“I had never really thought of being in the military, but at that time in my life, it sounded really exciting.”
Andrea Huffman, MD, Westside Physicians for Women, joined the Iowa National Guard in 1997 after her father, a member of the Guard for over 30 years, made her aware of a special program that gave physicians a direct commission. “I loved the idea of being able to get additional medical experiences doing things in the National Guard, plus it helped defray some of my costs for medical school,” she said.
Growing up in southeastern Iowa, Dr. Huffman was always fascinated with how the human body works. She was especially interested in how somebody could provide care that helped another person get better. Dr. Huffman didn’t gravitate toward OB-GYN until she was in rotations in medical school. “I discovered how special it is to be an OB-GYN,” she said. “I get to do procedures and I provide ongoing care to patients. I get to care for all ages – sometimes generations of the same family.”
Dr. Huffman was in the Guard all through medical school. After she completed her residency, she was excited to start working at Westside Physicians for Women. On her third day there, Dr. Huffman received a phone call informing her that she had been activated for a four-month rotation in Iraq. “It felt like all the wind got sucked out of me,” she said. “My son was only 17 months old. I was gone from mid-October until February. I missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and my son’s second birthday.”
Dr. Huffman served at an Air Force base north of Baghdad, providing general medical services. Even though she didn’t encounter an enemy directly, she says it was not a safe place. “I have this vivid memory of being alerted around 6 a.m. on Christmas Day,” she recalls. “We all climbed out of our beds and went to these cement bunkers with our Kevlar helmets and vests. We’re sitting in these bunkers on Christmas morning singing Christmas carols together because it’s Christmas, and you’re a world away from your family with people trying to murder you and you’re just trying to make the best of it.”
Dr. Huffman says her new co-workers were wonderful during her time in Iraq. “They sent me letters and care packages,” she said. “I feel extremely blessed to be a member of this group. We’re family. We support each other through all kinds of life events.”
Upon returning home, Dr. Huffman worried her son wouldn’t remember her. “We arrived at the airport very late at night, so I didn’t see him until the next morning,” she said. “I heard him in his crib and went to his room – and his eyes just lit up. It was the best feeling.”
While in Iraq, Dr. Huffman completed her six-year commitment to the National Guard. She couldn’t envision leaving her family again, so, once home, she resigned her commission and left the Guard. “This experience gave me so much insight,” said Dr. Huffman. “Yes, you have comrades with you, but you’re also halfway around the world in a place where people are trying to kill you. Our military and their families deserve so much of our appreciation and respect for their sacrifices.”