June 29, 20096/29/09 3 comments
When the U.S. Army celebrated its 234th birthday at the Pentagon on June 12, DMU graduate Colonel Arthur Wittich, D.O., was there to cut the tank-sized cake. He earned the honor as the oldest soldier serving in the Army.
“All the senior Army and Defense Department leaders were there,” he says. “It was pretty exciting.”
Dr. Wittich, 70, is the Army’s senior obstetrics/gynecology physician and one of its most senior officers. He says he’s enjoyed two great careers, medicine and the military, but the two were once at odds. He enlisted in the Navy in the late 1950s, served as a hospital corpsman and then enrolled in DMU’s osteopathic medicine program. At the time, osteopathic physicians were excluded from the armed forces’ medical corps. That changed in 1966 when President Lyndon Johnson ordered that D.O.s be fully accepted as physicians in all branches of the military.
According to the American Osteopathic Association, today more than 2,200 D.O.s serve in the military, many deployed to conflict zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. They include Dr. Wittich, who spent six months in 2008 as brigade surgeon, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, at the U.S. Army Contingency Operating Base Speicher near Tikrit in northern Iraq. He provided medical care, performed surgeries and supervised other physicians and physician assistants.
“The military doctors and PAs do everything in their power to give these kids good care,” he says, referring to the young soldiers they treated.
Dr. Wittich also has had numerous clinical and humanitarian assignments in Europe, Asia, Central America and the Middle East. Now a teaching staff physician at DeWitt Army Hospital, Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, he is a diplomat of the American College of Osteopathic Obstetricians and Gynecologists and a member of the elite Society of Gynecologic Surgeons, among other professional societies. At heart, though, he’s a military man.
“I’m proud to put the uniform on every day, and proud to serve as a D.O.,” he says.