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thedrifter
08-10-07, 02:52 PM
Libertyville surgeon, 53, joins the Army Reserve

By Mick Zawislak
mzawislak@dailyherald.com
Posted Friday, August 10, 2007

The cake was decorated in frosting with the American flag and congratulations to "Major Tom" -- which had an amusing double meaning for the newly commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Reserve.

It was a reference to the main character in a popular song released in 1969, when Tom Baier was in high school. His family thought it a perfect message for the 53-year-old orthopedic surgeon, who after more than two decades of fixing knees, shoulders and other body parts decided to join the Army.

"Very exciting. Very surprising. Very proud," said his daughter, Kristin, just after pinning the Oak Leaf cluster on his left lapel.

‚ The qualifying process took a year to this point, but on Thursday in the lobby of his Libertyville medical office, Baier was commissioned a major in the medical corps branch of the Army Reserve.

"He's not the type who will be kicking down doors. He's the one who will be putting us back together," said Sgt. First Class Thomas Voye, the recruiter who guided Baier through the process.

There will be boot camp in Baier's future, but it won't be the intense training faced by recruits who enlist. Voye described it as a four-week "gentleman's course" at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.

"There's no yelling," Voye joked.

Despite the lightheartedness of the occasion, Baier's commission is serious business. His specialty is considered to be "war-time critical," Voye said. For the three years of his active duty, he can be deployed anywhere in the world the Army needs him, including Iraq, for up to four months.

That's where Baier's son, Mike, a lance corporal in the Marines, mans a .50-caliber gun atop a Humvee on patrol in Ramadi in the central part of the country. It was Mike's graduation from boot camp last spring that inspired Tom Baier.

A month later, another son graduated from high school, leaving an empty nest for Baier and his wife, Nancy. One day, he walked into a recruiter's office in downtown Libertyville, ready to leave if necessary. The Marines does not have its own medical corps, so he shifted to the Army.

"This is a case of a son influencing a father," Baier said. "He went and joined and made me think, 'There's a need.' I knew I was too old to be enlisted as a recruit."

‚ During the Vietnam era, Baier said he was worried because he had a fairly high draft number. But the draft ended by the time he left college.

The maximum age for physicians to be commissioned is 62, Voye said, although exceptions have been made.

Baier is a partner in Greenleaf Orthopedic Associates and is the team physician for Libertyville High School and Trinity College. Why change what is working so well?

"I'm excited about it, to tell the truth," Baier said. "I've got a skill to help the troops with. I've got a lot of experience and thought I could help our country."

"This is almost like a semi-career change, if you will. Unfortunately, over there (Iraq), they do a lot of amputations. The biggest change is it will be more mass casualties."

As a requirement of his contract, Baier will spend one weekend a month at the Army hospital at Fort Sheridan and two consecutive weeks once a year training at locations to be determined.

If he does have to go to a combat zone, his partners have promised to pick up the slack and Nancy is prepared.

"He realized he could be a good fit in the military," she said. "If it was my son, I'd like someone like him there. I'm good with it."

Physicians who are commissioned generally come in at a minimum rank of captain. Baier enters at the higher rank of major, which required U.S. Senate approval, in recognition of his expertise.

"I told my son he's going to have to salute me now," Baier said.

"He said, 'I wouldn't count on it, Dad.'"

Ellie