Army doctor, 75, looks back at half-century of service

By Lisa Ferdinando, ARNEWS

During more than a half-century of military service, Col. Arthur Wittich, D.O.’71, an Army doctor, has helped service members and families across the globe.

Col. Arthur Wittich has worked at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia for the past 16 years. Here, he is seen on the job, in 2011.
Col. Arthur Wittich has worked at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia for the past 16 years. Here, he is seen on the job, in 2011.

From his office at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, Arthur Wittich looked back at his career that began in 1956, when his father, a World War II naval officer, enlisted him into the Navy.

“It’s like yesterday,” said Wittich, who is an obstetrics/gynecology staff physician at Fort Belvoir, VA. “I consider myself blessed. I’ve enjoyed my career.”

He served six years in the Navy as a hospital corpsman, went to college and medical school, and earned his doctor of osteopathic medicine degree in 1971.

While he did enjoy his time in the Navy, he said, the Army showed “a little bit more interest” in him, and he liked the location of Army posts better. His father then helped commission him into the Army.

“I came into the Army and I’m very happy,” he said.

Having such a long career afforded Wittich, 75, a place of honor at the Army’s annual birthday cake-cutting at the Pentagon, as the oldest soldier in the Military District of Washington (MDW).

Col. Arthur Witch helps cut the cake at the Army's 239th birthday party.
Col. Arthur Wittich was one of the first doctors of osteopathic medicine to train in the Army. He is the oldest soldier in the regular Army and the longest serving, since he graduated from DMU in 1971. He recently was promoted to full clinical professor of obstetrics/gynecology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences after serving as assistant clinical professor and associate professor. In the photo above, on June 19 Wittich (second from left) joined Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, Secretary of the Army John McHugh and others — including the Washington Nationals mascot George Washington — at the Pentagon to cut an enormous cake in celebration of the Army’s 239th birthday.

“I’ve done it five times,” he said, showing the pictures where he is beaming alongside Army leadership and the youngest soldier in the MDW.

His many posts have included Germany, Honduras, Iraq, Korea and Saudi Arabia; stateside assignments have taken him to Arizona, Colorado and Hawaii, to name a few.

“I’ve enjoyed all the places. I could live in a tent. I could be anywhere,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it because I’ve enjoyed being a military doctor.”

He had great experiences, he said, even if the posting was in a location he didn’t particularly care for, or was heavy with the administrative duties that this hands-on, personable doctor would rather avoid.

“I’m blessed that I have two professions,” he said about being a doctor and a military officer. “As long as I can do both well, I’d like to continue doing this.”

He was the brigade surgeon for the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, in Tikrit, Iraq; hospital commander and task force surgeon in Honduras; and assistant program manager in Saudi Arabia, with the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

Other assignments include the obstetrics/gynecology staff physician at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu; division surgeon, 2nd Infantry Division in Korea; and the chief of surgery at the R.W. Bliss Army Hospital, Fort Huachuca, AZ.

If he had to pick one post as his favorite, he said, it would probably be Hawaii. He enjoyed the fast-paced nature of the job and seeing military personnel and their families from not just Hawaii, but also Guam, Korea and throughout the Pacific Rim.

And he delivers babies. Lots of them.

People are sometimes curious about how many little ones he has brought into the world over the decades, he said.

It’s enough to fill a town.

“I would say maybe 8,000-9,000 babies in all the places I’ve been; I’ve been in pretty busy places sometimes,” he said, noting that the number includes deliveries he has supervised with residents. “I’ve delivered a lot of babies.”

The medical world has certainly changed over the decades since he was a young Navy corpsman, he said, from amazing medical advances in surgery, prosthetics and battlefield care, to the inclusion of more women and minorities in the medical field.

“There were no females in my medical school class. There were no females in my residency; in my first assignment, there were no female doctors in the hospital I was in. I’m talking about Landstuhl [the largest U.S. Army hospital in Germany], so it’s changed a lot,” he said.

Wittich, who has previously done medical mission trips in Africa and Latin America, would like to do more international medical projects to help populations in need and train foreign practitioners, he said.

The need for medical care in other countries is incredible, he said, noting he traveled to Nigeria to remove large tumors from patients, and to Niger to perform fistula repair on women who suffered genital mutilation.

With a list of publications, medical honors, academic appointments, certifications and numerous military awards, Wittich is recognized in the military and medical community for his work.

For most of the past 16 years, he has worked at Fort Belvoir, where he keeps a busy schedule of delivering babies, performing surgery, instructing residents and responding to medical emergencies.

Outside the hospital, he enjoys time with his wife, Lucy, his high school sweetheart whom he has been married to for nearly six decades. They are the proud parents of a son and the doting grandparents to two girls, now in their 20s, he said.

Looking back, it has been a great journey, he said, and he’s enjoyed all of it.

This article and photos were originally posted on the U.S. Army website and are reprinted with permission. Photos by Eboni Everson Myart.

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