At 11 a.m. on a Thursday, Dr. Sarah Lentz has just finished surgery and is looking at her coffee cup with fondness. It’s a busy week.
But the day before she took the time to speak at a Veterans Day ceremony, and she will attend at least two more this weekend. Recognizing the day, she said, is important to her.
“And I think more people need to come to them and learn what they’re about. It’s really not just for veterans. It’s for America,” she said. “If more people came, they might understand better. And the vets might talk a little more, which they don’t like to do. But you know, it means so much when a vet does talk to a person. Because they understand better. I’ve had that happen.”
Lentz served in the United States Air Force as a surgeon from 2002 to 2006. Today, she is a general surgeon at Carroll Hospital and the senior vice commander of the Monocacy Valley Memorial VFW Post 6918.
She started active duty stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, where she served as a general surgeon caring for the active-duty service members in the area and teaching as part of a residency program on the base.
“I was a normal surgeon. Fixing hernias and taking out thyroids and that sort of thing,” she said.
She was deployed for the first time to Saudi Arabia in 2003 during the Iraq War and said the work was a lot of primary care for the people stationed there.
Things changed in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck Keesler where Lentz was once again stationed, causing damage to the base and leaving the hospital essentially inoperable. Lentz was deployed to Iraq, along with many others from Keesler.
“I think deployment was going to happen anyway. Katrina just kind of moved it along,” she said.
She lived on a large base in central Iraq called Camp Anaconda, where she served as a surgeon during the Iraq War.
“That’s trauma surgery. You get the people who have been injured by the improvised explosives, the roadside bombs. It’s a whole different ballgame,” Lentz said.
“Fortunately I had a really good training and residency to deal with trauma, so it wasn’t like I was all of a sudden out of my element in Iraq. I knew what I was doing. But it’s a whole different environment because its war. And you can get killed any time.”
She said being isolated in a desert war zone with limited contact to her family was mentally straining.
“It’s not glamorous,” she said. “There’ so much uncertainty. It’s very lonely.”
“If they’re considering it, you get great training. The base hospitals are very well-run. You’ve got to be prepared to be deployed though because it’s the nature of our world right now and if you’re not ready to do that, if you’ve got little kids growing, then don’t do it,” she said.
The bonds she formed with other service members, her bothers and sisters, are the most rewarding part of her service, she said.
“You’re part of a group of people who’ve done something extraordinary. People bring it up all the time and say ‘thank you.’ And you say ‘thank you’ to them. And there’s just a bond that exists,” she said. “I haven’t seen those people for 11 years, but if I did, it’d be like I saw them yesterday.”
Though she didn’t think her personality was cut out for war, the experience shaped the way she works and made her a better person, she said.
“I know what it is to be an American,” she said. “I learned to work better with people, which isn’t always easy, especially when you’re under pressure. And appreciate more what we have. I try to tell other people that, too.”