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Astonishing friends and family, Dr. Marjorie Mosier ’58 was deployed to active duty in Kuwait two months before her 66th birthday. Retired in 2003, Mosier is one of the oldest women in the U.S. military to earn a combat patch.

Duty to country

By Ann Harris O’Keefe-Brewer ’56

As far as Dr. Marjorie Armstrong Mosier ’58 was concerned, she was just doing her duty to her country when she was deployed to the Middle East in 2002 during Operation Enduring Freedom. But to her husband, family and friends, she was taking her place in a long line of the nation’s women heroes.

An eye surgeon and an Army Reservist from 1983-2003, Mosier celebrated her 66th birthday two days before she returned to the States and is one of the oldest women in the U.S. military to have earned a combat patch for serving in a combat area. Because of the manner in which personnel records are kept, Army and Pentagon spokespersons could not verify that she is the oldest woman, but all confirm that she is certainly one of the oldest. My research found only one other woman close to that age: Army Nurse Maude Campbell Davison Jackson, who served in

the Philippines during World War II, was 60 when liberated from a Japanese prison camp in 1945 after three years of captivity.

Although Mosier came from a military family, she never anticipated being part of the military herself. She graduated cum laude from Bryn Mawr, where she experienced an “excellent scientific and general education.” Mosier says, “Bryn Mawr gave me a fuller recognition of my innate capabilities. I experienced an awakening akin to rebirth there.”

She worked as a lab technician for several years. After completing course work for a doctorate in anatomy, she switched to medicine and was graduated from UCLA School of Medicine in 1970. She had met her husband, David, a pediatric endocrinologist, while working in a state hospital shortly after leaving Bryn Mawr, and they were married in 1963.

Mosier’s residency in ophthalmology included a three-month stint in Honduras in 1975. She says she “came home knowing you don’t need all that much to live a productive life, and gratified to be able to care for people who had so little and were so appreciative.” Before going into full-time private practice in 1993, she held a faculty appointment in medicine for 17 years at the University of California, Irvine. While there, she worked for a number of years, through the legal system, on behalf of gender equity for women faculty. Eventually she was able to see positive results, including changes in the law, stemming from those efforts. In 1977 she founded Women in Ophthalmology and served as president for the ensuing 10 years, remaining on the Board of Directors to this day.

In 1983, David, a World War II veteran and former National Guard member, suggested that they join the Army Reserves together. Marjorie, who had twice been turned down as an astronaut candidate in the 1970s—once because women were not being considered for the program at that time and once because of an administrative error—agreed. David entered the Reserves as a colonel and within a few years Marjorie also attained that rank.

Military reservists are always in line to be called to active duty if the country needs their services. In normal peace time, a reservist’s obligation usually consists of two weeks of full-time duty each year and one weekend each month of local duty, or “drill” (hence the nickname, “weekend warrior”). During her monthly weekend drill, Mosier served at the Los Alamitos Reserve Center as chief of one of the eye surgical teams. One of her most exciting two-week tours as a reservist was in Sri Lanka, where she was deployed as part of a small medical team to guide the Sinahlese government in the management of battle casualties. During this tour she saw many missing limbs and eye injuries resulting from explosives.

In December 1990, the Mosiers were both mobilized to active duty for eight months during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. They left their private practices and were sent to the Silas B. Hays Army Community Hospital in Fort Ord, CA, to take over for regular medical staff who had been sent to the Middle East. Mosier became the chief of the eye, ear, nose and throat department. After their active duty tour at Fort Ord ended, they returned to their civilian lives and their weekend reserve duty, until David reached the Army’s mandatory retirement age in 1992. Marjorie remained in the Reserves.

Then came 9/11. On October 7, 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom—the U.S. military response to the terrorist attack on September 11—began. Less than a year later, in July 2002, Mosier was recalled to active duty, this time for service in combat zones in the Middle East.

In country

After a two-week orientation at Fort Dix, NJ, she was flown to the dry, flat country of Kuwait. Her home for most of her three-month duty tour was Camp Doha, 30 miles north of Kuwait City, and 35 miles from the Iraq border. As the only ophthalmologist in the entire Persian Gulf theater of operations, she spent most of her time tending eye problems of all kinds, primarily of service members. Within a week of her arrival, she was flown to the base hospital at Bagram, near Kabul, Afghanistan, to perform surgery on the severely battle-damaged eyes of an enemy combatant and prisoner of war.

Camp Doha was a 500-acre warehouse complex that had been converted to Army use in 1991, following Kuwait’s liberation from Iraq. The Bagram air base was virtually a tent city, although the hospital tents had inflatable walls, climate controls, solid flooring and provided the necessary requirements for first rate medical care. Mosier commented in an e-mail to her husband, “Were it not for the war and land mines all over the place, it would be a beautiful spot!”

Except, perhaps, for the weather. “Kuwait in the summer is hot hot hot!” says Mosier, with temperatures normally ranging between 130 and 140 degrees. “A day that only reached 128 was considered cool.” There was no relief at night, as temperatures still hovered in the three digits. There was little vehicular transportation available, so people had to walk long distances in the intense heat wearing heavy protective clothing—to their quarters, to the clinic, to the mess halls, to the recreation areas, to the command center—everywhere. Fortunately, the bottled water that was available “everywhere you turned” helped everyone stay well-hydrated.

And yet, the air-conditioned facilities were often too cold for comfort. Mosier, a dedicated and accomplished pianist who treasures her three Steinway pianos, had obtained permission to practice on the chapel piano, but often found that after only half an hour, her fingers became too numb to continue playing.

Mosier gave high praise to the Army MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) staff for their upbeat spirit and wonderful efforts to provide respite (movies, videos, games, tours, etc.) during whatever leisure time soldiers had. She also found the food in the mess hall abundant and varied, with steak and lobster offered once a week and “almost every imaginable item available for breakfast.”

Homeward bound

By coincidence, Mosier departed on September 11, 2002. In an e-mail to her husband as she awaited a flight in Philadelphia, she wrote of her homecoming, “There’s definitely a surge of feeling coming home. I felt it most, almost to the point of tears, when, on the crystal clear night we flew over New York City—coming in toward Baltimore/Washington, I had a perfect view of Manhattan Island, Central Park, the brilliant lights of the site of the World Trade Center, and the lights of the Statue of Liberty...Home, my country, beautiful, familiar cities of the Eastern Seaboard I know, my stepping stone to California. See you soon. It’s over!!!!”

In an interview with Peggy Goetz of the Irvine World News (November 14, 2002) shortly after her return, Mosier said she believes that all young people should give a couple of years for the welfare of their country, adding, “This was a chance for me to give something, too.”

 

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