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Physician Returns From Active Duty in Afghanistan

When Dr. Matthew Peters joined the Air Force at age 48 he never dreamed his medical skills would land him in the middle of a war.  But, that’s what happened.  Along the way, he learned to drive a Humvee, was introduced to weapons of all sorts and helped establish one medical clinic and plan for others in war-torn Afghanistan.
“I must admit I dreaded it, but parts of it I actually enjoyed,” he said of the deployment.
After returning to the states this spring and finishing his three-year military commitment, Dr. Peters and his medical bag are back in Miami County.  He’s returning to the practice of family medicine with Dr. Mohammedrezz Niktash in Troy while remaining in the reserves.
Dr. Peters is a 1975 graduate of Tippecanoe High School, 1979 graduate of Valparaiso University and 1983 Wright State University School of Medicine graduate.  He spent nearly 20 years in family practice in Miami County, several with his brothers, Drs. Chris and Mark Peters, before deciding four years ago it was time to look for a new challenge utilizing his medical skills.  He talked with folks at Wright Patterson Air Force Base before joining the Air Force and being assigned as a lieutenant colonel to Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio , Texas , in spring 2005.
His initial time there was spent practicing family medicine, seeing patients both active duty and retired; studying advanced trauma and combat field care; and revamping medical readiness training for family medicine physicians.  Experience also was gained in making death notification and participating in a court martial trial.
Troops and Afghanistan ImageIn 2007, with a shortage of physicians in the Army, the military turned to Navy and Air Force physicians to help fill roles overseas. For Dr. Peters, that meant orders to Afghanistan following two and one half months of training at Fort Riley, Kansas.  There, he learned to drive Humvees, was taught radio communication and negotiating skills and received weapons training. He admits that at times during that training, he thought, “I can’t believe I got myself into this.”
With training behind him, it was off to Kabul, Afghanistan where Dr. Peters was assigned to mentor Afghan physicians at a National Primary Care Clinic and organize and open the clinic in Kabul.  He worked with the Afghan doctors on running a clinic, treating mass casualties and setting up emergency protocols.  Each day, Dr. Peters and other members of the team establishing the clinics and building up the local police force would drive in a convoy from their compound, set up in a blocked off old city neighborhood, across Kabul to the clinic.  Everyone was armed as they went about their daily duties.
Dr. Peters said he was fortunate he never had to use his weapons training, though it wasn’t unusual to hear gunfire in the city.
“It definitely was somewhat scary.  There were issues while we were there, but it was not with us,” he said.
He described the people he dealt with, primarily professionals, as “very nice” people who said they thought progress was being made.
The Kabul clinic, a two-story building from the Russian governing days, was converted into a clinic with $2.5 million in equipment and supplies.  The clinic was called a police clinic because it was to serve primarily police members and their families, with the medical care a police recruiting incentive. Emergency patients also were seen at the clinic.  The clinic was the first of several planned for across the country.  As part of participation in humanitarian assistance days, Dr.Peters would see local residents, many who had gone without health care for extended periods of time.
“It certainly broadened my skills a bit. It sounds corny, but it kind of felt like I did a small part (in helping the country), “Dr. Peters said. “Now that it’s done, it was actually a much better experience than I would have had on a large Air Force base somewhere.”Dr. Peters’ wife of five years, Jill, joined him at Randolph but returned to the area when he deployed to Afghanistan.  She works at the Amos Public Library in Sidney.  The couple recently bought a home near Troy.