Ever since he was a boy growing up in Carrington, North Dakota Army National Guard Colonel Todd Schaffer knew he wanted to serve our country.
“As I was graduating high school, it was right in 1991 right in the first Iraq War, and just the pride you felt in how the American military served in that conflict, I just wanted to make sure I did my part to serve my country as well,” said Schaffer.
He would enlist during his first year of college at NDSU in early 1991, and in 2004, would volunteer to head to Iraq to provide medical care to the troops fighting for our freedom.
A choice that — at the time — didn’t sit well with his wife and family.
“She was not pleased, but she understood. She knew that my heart was in the right place, I just felt that if everyone else is doing their part then there’s no reason why I shouldn’t lose the opportunity to be also to go over and take care of the soldiers that are really doing the hard work”, said Schaffer.
He spent several months as a battalion surgeon at Camp Victory in Baghdad, providing urgent care to the soldiers who needed it. He says experiencing the horrors of war for the first time was eye-opening.
“Soldiers being shot, hit with a mortar, burned beyond recognition; things that to this day you think about it and you just think about the horrors of what there is, for as glorious as people say, I volunteered for combat, I volunteered to go to war you still see the downsides of it,” said Schaffer.
Two years later in 2006, he was ordered back to serve another few months in Nasiriyah, in the southern part of Iraq.
His number would be called again in 2010 and 2014, this time to Afghanistan.
But between Afghan tours, he would head to Ghana for three weeks in 2011 as part of a training mission to assist Ghana’s version of FEMA to provide urgent medical care.
Another eye opening experience
“Went out to these very indigent regions where they have an extreme lack of healthcare, you know a 5-year-old child who has never walked, crawled, spoke opened their eyes, obviously had a severe form of cerebral palsy, mom brought him in and said, ‘You’re from America, you can fix this right?’ Just things you can’t do anything about,” said Schaffer.
Now he’s on the front lines fighting another, invisible enemy: the coronavirus, which he says is just as challenging as a ground war.
“When you have kind of that unseen enemy that’s certainly harder because you can’t say, there it is, here’s your task, go accomplish it. We know what our task is in terms of fighting COVID, the invisible enemy, we know what works and what doesn’t work but it’s hard to really say we have these steps that we know work now, we need to implement them but at the end of the day we can’t force people to do the thing’s that need to be done,” said Schaffer.
Simply put, if we want to win this war, Schaffer says, wear your mask.
Schaffer won’t be the last in his family to serve, as his daughter and son-in-law are also currently in the military.