Thanks to generous help from media specialist Amanda Sanders with the Defense Video and Image Distribution System, WFAA sister station KENS 5 was able to talk with Lt. Col. David "G.I." Jones, a pediatric gastroenterologist stationed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland who is currently deployed at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
Q: If you could introduce yourself and tell us about what you do in Afghanistan and how long you've been there.
A: Alright, sure. My name is Lt. Col. David Jones. And in Afghanistan, right now, I am serving as the pediatrician here at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital in Bagram, Afghanistan. I am one of several pediatricians who has come through here. I've been here for five months now.
Q: OK, now from my understanding, when you were back here, you were doing mostly gastrointestinal work. And over there, you're more in the role of a trauma doctor. I want to get your thoughts on the duality of going from working with kids, who are most likely coming in for an appointment or they have a condition that you've been following, versus someone who's walking in there and you have no idea what to expect; it's right there in the moment. How have you dealt with that?
A: Well, it's been very challenging. But it's been challenging in a very positive way. In fact, in San Antonio I'm a pediatric gastroenterologist. I've been a staff pediatric gastroenterologist for eight and a half years. So, typically, that's all that I do and pediatrics has been a specialty. Then, obviously, being sent out here, I am doing very general pediatric medicine and hospital medicine for pediatric patients that either have undergone surgery or have had some sort of trauma done. But we also handle pediatric patients that are just illnesses, infections and anything else. So, it has been very challenging, but I would say, it's been challenging in a very positive way. You know, in some ways, I revert back to my group of training for stuff that I have not seen or been exposed to for many many years, since I'm hesitant. And it's forced me to be learning, quite a bit, and very astute in my everyday job.
Q: You know, you're working with kids, you're doing what you've always done, and then it hits you: "I'm halfway around the world. How did I end up here?" Do you ever get that feeling?
A: Well, I think that we are prepared for this. You know, just being in the military, we see several of our peers and colleagues who have been sent to do this particular job in the past. And there's a system for finding different people to enroll. Obviously, we know that we send people that are specialized in pediatrics out here. So, it was one of those that my time was, uh ... it was my time to come out here and do my job out here. I certainly do still wake up some days and can't believe I'm halfway around the world and so far away from my home, doing what I do. But then you just get up and do your job and you do it well.
Q: Did you have a practice back home, here in San Antonio?
A: I am stationed as part of the 59th Medical Wing at Lackland. My clinic and all my patients are seen at SAMMC. But yes, I do have a practice. I practice there at SAMMC in San Antonio. And then, pediatricians within SAMMC are the ones that typically will cover out here for a period of four to six months on the deployment.
Q: You know, one of the things that's interesting about your work is that you're changing the face of what Afghans see as Americans, or what they see as the image of America. You're there, you're helping the kids, the community. You're the most genuine diplomat that the U.S. has. You're on the ground, doing this every day. Do you ever feel the weight of that importance?
A: I think that a lot of people here, we have the sense. You know, first and foremost, this is a -- always know -- it will be a team effort. I know I'm one of the faces that the parents and children see. They also, every day, see faces of other active-duty service members here that are nurses, technicians, you know, other people in the hospital. And I think we are all important faces for American diplomacy here. And I think that most of us do feel a sense of pride in what we do. And then when we interact with the families, how grateful and thankful they are for the services that we are providing for the children. Or even other active-duty service members that are here, coalition forces that are here, when we see how grateful and appreciative they are of the work that we're doing, I think that does give us pride and it encourages us to keep going. It can be very difficult this far away from your family, from your normal lifestyle, from your routine. But it's times like that when you say, "Yeah, I will keep going, because what I'm doing is very positive work."
Q: That's right. You know, going with that, what do you think it is that Americans don't understand? That once you got there and saw first-hand what was going on, that you understood about the situation that we're in.
A: I think … I think, probably, I would answer that by just saying that most of us here -- still every day -- we are reminded that there is a conflict going on. And I think it's the fact that the United States hears less and less about people that are over here and the people that are still fighting for our freedom. They are still very involved in the conflict over here. But we take care of injuries every day, whether it be pediatric patients or active-duty service members or coalition forces. We are reminded everyday that there's still a serious and significant conflict going on over here. Yeah, probably that's what I would say is the biggest misunderstanding.
Q: What's one of the best things that's happened to you there, one of the best experiences you've had?
A: Well, there's been so many. I would say that one of the best experiences that I had was being a gastrointestinal doctor over here. I had a girl that came in with chronic gastrointestinal bleeding. She had had this for eight years. And every three or four months, she was getting a blood transfusion because she was having low blood counts and anemia. And so, I was able to diagnose her appropriately and get her the appropriate treatment so that this never happens to her anymore. And when we discharged her from the hospital, the handshake that I received from her father, and the smile that I received from him, was one of the best moments I've had over here, so far.
Q: What's been one of the worst experiences you've had that's affected you the most?
A: Well, there's been a few difficult circumstances. I would say my worst circumstance that I've experienced is having seen, back home, things not go as smoothly as planned with my family. The first broken bones occurred, the first surgery on one of my children occurred, and my wife needed to have surgery while I was gone. So, just being separated from them while they were dealing with difficult circumstances is the worst thing that's probably happened here. But in terms of the experiences here, absolutely the worst night that I've had here was when we had several service members injured in an attack here on base and just seeing the outcomes of that. Very devastating.
Q: I bet. Is there anybody you won't forget? I mean, is there somebody that sticks out in your mind that you've met that really had an impact on you?
A: I think that there are so many people, that I probably can't name one. It's just the entire experience that I won't ever forget.
Q: And finally, you're talking about family being the toughest thing to deal with. The holidays are coming up, what do you plan to do? How will you stay strong?
A: I stay strong with faith. I think, in this environment, they do a very good job of taking care of us and making sure that we have Internet and other ways to communicate with family. So, I take a lot of time making sure that I'm staying and being patient to a friend back home, a wife and other family members. Other than that, you know that you have a responsibility and a duty here. And you are the person that's been sent here to perform that responsibility and duty. And when you take that very seriously, you're able to get through every day, no matter what holiday you're facing. So, hopefully I can be back with my family before Christmas.
Q: That'd be fantastic. Good to hear. Is there anything else you want to say?
A: No. Just to my friends and family in San Antonio, I can't wait to see you guys. I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving and hopefully I'll see you at Christmas.