Ala. Doctor Reactivated for Iraq War at 68
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Ala. Doctor Reactivated for Iraq War at 68

AP/July 19, 2004

DECATUR, Ala. - At 68, many people are slowing down. Not John Wicks: He's going to Iraq ( news - web sites ). Wicks, a psychiatrist, has been called out of military retirement by the Army to fill a shortage of mental health experts needed to help soldiers cope with combat. He could be gone as long as a year.

The Army hasn't told Wicks what his exact assignment in Iraq is, or where in the country it will send him.

"I believe that the morale in general is not that good since the scandal at that prison," he said, referring to the allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. "When morale is high, you have fewer of these kinds of problems. And when morale is low you have more."

Wicks, who is beginning a week of training in Texas, will have the rank of colonel. His previous military experience includes two years active duty with the Marines and 18 years in the Alabama National Guard.

Wicks is a veteran of the U.S. war with Iraq in 1991, but his wife said things are different this time.

"In Desert Storm, he was in the 109th Evacuation Hospital and they had drilled together for years," said Jan Wicks. "He felt good about going with this team that he knew. He doesn't have that support this time."

Wicks figures he will be among the oldest U.S. soldiers in the Iraq war. Martha Rudd, a spokeswoman for the Army at the Pentagon ( news - web sites ), said she has no way of knowing if Wicks would be the oldest. She said she had heard of one other doctor who was 68 and went to Iraq.

Wicks' latest assignment started with a postcard the Army sent last fall that explained the need for specialists and asked if he felt he was fit to serve.

"I stuck the thing in my pocket and carried it around for several weeks agonizing on how I should respond," he told The Decatur Daily in a story Sunday. "The truth is I consider myself fit to serve, so that's how I marked it and sent it back."

"My wife said 'You'll never hear from them.' Well, it was no time at all till I heard from them," Wicks said.

Wicks said recruiters initially hinted he could go to Europe or a stateside base to relieve a younger psychiatrist who would go to Iraq. The Army even gave him three choices should that scenario play out, and Dr. Wicks chose Italy, Germany and England.

"Well, I now wonder if this was just to get me hooked. Because there's no way I'm going to Italy or any of these places," he said. "I'm going to Iraq."

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