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Yarbrough: Doctor gives back to his country

POSTED: May 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.

What did you do on Sept. 11, 2001 when you realized Islamic terrorists had slammed airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands of innocent people?

Most of us walked around in a stupor. The U.S. Senate gathered on the steps of the Capitol, linked hands and sang "God Bless America," and dang the ACLU if they didn't like it.

Mr. Smug, aka Bill Maher, took the opportunity to take a cheap shot at his country, even as it staggered from the attacks. What a guy.

What did Randy Rizor do? He joined the Army. At the time he was a 49-year-old doctor with a successful medical practice in Atlanta, a strong love for his country and no prior military experience. Let him tell the story: "My son and I were on the runway at a small airport in New Hampshire preparing to take off for Atlanta, when an airport employee came running out, telling us to cut our engine."

The attacks had just occurred and air space was shut down. They were finally able to find a rental car and began the long trip back to Georgia, seeing the smoke from the WTC disaster in New York and watching grieving citizens holding candles as they drove through Washington.

"Somewhere on I-95, and I can't tell you exactly where," the doctor says, "it hit me that my country had given me so much, and it was time for payback. When I got home I headed to the Army recruiting office and volunteered."

Even if the Army would take him, his wife wasn't worried because she doubted someone his age would survive basic training. The trim and athletic doctor did survive, and he was commissioned a major in the Army Medical Corps.

Dr. Rizor has had two overseas assignments sandwiched in between his regular medical practice. The first was Kosovo in 2004. Now, he is just back from Iraq, where he served as a physician in the military hospital at Camp Speicher in Takrit, administering to American and Iraqi troops, as well as citizens wounded in combat-related activity. The area is thought to be one of the last al-Qaida strongholds in the country, and there was plenty of activity for the good doctor, from American and Iraqi soldiers hit by IEDs to a 3-year-old boy shot in a car with two adults, trying to run a military roadblock.

Our troops are doing a magnificent job in Iraq, he says, and media reports to the contrary are making a tangible difference, particularly in such areas as security and infrastructure. Sadly, Dr. Rizor reports, most Iraqis accept the fact we won't finish the job. We will get them close enough to democracy to smell it and then we will walk away, leaving them to the mercy of hardliners waiting to punish them and their families.

He's right. And most Americans won't care what happens to these people.

He came home realizing how good we have it and that the rest of the world looks on us like low-class people who won the lottery: filthy rich but undeserving. His Iraqi interpreter told him, "Even your poor people are fat," meaning indulged.

Dr. Rizor says he senses more than ever a huge indifference in our society and worries about our apathy and lethargy, and our assumption that our way of life will be here for our descendants.

"Look at Iraq," he says. "At one time it was the most advanced civilization on earth. Today, it is dirt and rubble."

We have no guarantees that won't happen to us. Most of us would rather sit on our duffs - fat, dumb and unhappy - and complain about all that is wrong with our country than get involved and make it better.

Our cup is always half-empty. And what other country hyphenates its citizens to emphasize its differences?

Yes, I get discouraged about the future, but then I am reminded there are still a few people around like Dr. Randy Rizor. President John Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

Randy Rizor did exactly that. He is a great American.

Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and on gainesvilletimes.com. You can reach him at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139. First published on April 19, 2008.



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