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70-year-old Concord doctor called up to Iraq

Marjorie Benbow, wife of Colonel Hector Henry hspace=4
Marjorie Benbow, wife of Colonel Hector Henry hspace=4

This week, U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq's cities and into rural areas. But the fighting continues and soldiers are still being injured. Army doctors are in such high demand that a 70-year-old physician from Concord deployed early this morning for a four-month tour. WFAE's Julie Rose has more: It's crazy to think the military needs doctors so badly it would bring a 70-year old from the Army Reserves Medical Corps out of retirement and ship him off to Iraq. It's only happened three times since 9-11 - most recently to Concord physician Colonel Hector Henry. But you need to know that Colonel Henry isn't the senior citizen you might be thinking: "You know when he does his PT test he's up scoring in the 95th percentile," says Colonel Henry's wife, Marjorie Benbow. "He's doing 2 finger pull ups. And then when you think about him, he's continually reading books - you know 4 books a week. He doesn't sleep. And so I'm kinda going, is he 70? And I still can't believe that." Marjorie and Colonel Henry married 17 years ago, and she says had no idea he was 25 years older until shortly before the wedding. Nor did she know he was a Colonel. She kept telling people her husband was a Corporal. "He said, 'I didn't want to correct you, you were so cute,'" remembers Marjorie, laughing. "I found out there was a little bit of a difference between a Colonel and a Corporal and I was like, oh, okay." Colonel Henry has been in the US Army Reserves Medical Corps 40 years. Since the Gulf War he's done four stints in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most recent was 3 years ago. He was 67 by then, the retirement age for reserve doctors. He told the Army he'd come out of retirement if they needed him, but he hoped that wouldn't happen. Marjorie isn't surprised he said "yes." "I miss him a lot when he's gone, but I also realize that I married someone who likes to live on the edge," says Marjorie. She's an athletic, 40-something, attorney and director of the North Carolina Biotech Center in Charlotte. We met at her office the day before she planned to drive six hours to see the Colonel off at Fort Benning. She's been waiting to hear from him all day. "It's more important if you love somebody to let 'em be free," she says. Her cell phone rings. "That could be him! Hey Baby C!," says Marjorie, using a pet name for her husband. "How are you? I miss you so much. I'm proud of you." Later, I get the Colonel on the phone again. "I have a - and I don't mean to sound hokey about it - but I have a very strong sense of obligation to what I'm supposed to be doing," says Colonel Henry on the phone from Fort Benning. "I'm the grandfather here for these soldiers. It's just an absolutely wonderful experience." Does he ever feel old interacting with all those young folks? "Oh sure, yeah," the Colonel responds. "Yesterday we went and got all this stuff we had to take and I was dragging it around and I was seeing all these younger soldiers carrying two bags and one on their backs. I'm just not strong enough to do that anymore." Colonel Henry says the work he'll be doing in Iraq is "a mixture of primary care doctor plus being able to provide trauma support where my job is gonna be put in the chest tube if I need to do that. Stabilize a fracture. Try and stop the bleeding as best I can. Get some IVs started and put them on the helicopter to the forward surgical team. It would tickle me to death if I had to do nothing except treat some sore throats and people with headaches and hopefully don't see a single injury. Maybe an ankle injury, people playing basketball. That's all I hope I'll have to deal with." Is it more difficult to deploy at 70 than it was at 50 or at 40? "Uh, maybe a little bit more," Colonel Henry concedes. "My children are much bigger now and they're married, so I'm not gonna be worried about my children as much as I was when I went to the Gulf War. Marjorie, my wife, I'm very concerned about her. And I'm worried about my grandkids, I'm gonna miss my grandson's birthday and that upsets me. But again, I feel like I'm gonna do some good." Of course, every soldier is missed while he or she is away. But few leave children and grandchildren behind. Colonel Henry has three of each. He also has hundreds of patients at the VA hospital in Salisbury. And then there's the Concord City Council, where he's served for more than 20 years. "He's certainly a watchdog for the citizens," says Concord Mayor Scott Padgett. He just shakes his head when he talks about the Colonel's plan to participate in council meetings by webcam. "He is a very energetic person that doesn't require a lot of sleep and has a lot of interest," adds Padgett. "So this just fits with his personality." That energy will come in handy, with council meetings starting at 1 a.m. Iraq time. Then again, at 70, he's still doing those two-finger pull-ups. Another place Colonel Henry's absence will be obvious is the West Cabarrus YMCA where every morning at 5 a.m. he's outside the doors, waiting for it open up. "I mean I wish I looked as fit as he does now at my age now!" says Fran Leverick, who usually shows up at the Y right behind Colonel Henry. "I saw him on the news and I got goose bumps because I didn't realize his age and that he's serving our country, just blew me away." Colonel Henry says he feels compelled - and honored - to serve. But he also says this deployment will be his last. "I promised Marjorie," says Colonel Henry. "I promised my granddaughter, my grandsons. They all say 'This is the last time, right?' And hopefully the conflict's gonna be over and I won't need to go again. But there are a lot of people who are more competent than I am to do this, so it's time for somebody else to do it." At the age of 70, with five deployments under his belt, the Colonel's certainly done his part. Colonel Hector Henry will spend the next four months in Iraq treating soldiers in North Carolina's largest National Guard Unit, the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team.