By Amy Palumbo-LeClaire
Colonel Brett C. Anderson, medical director of the Orthopedic Surgery Clinic of Travis Air Force Base, California, may have been raised in the small town of Douglas, but his accomplishments are both large and honorable.
Born of a military family (two of his uncles attended the US Coast Guard Academy and his father served in the Marine Corps from 1966 – 69), the biologist who once thought about becoming a veterinarian as a child, graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1994 before working for AF Intelligence as chief of the Special Security Office, 49th Operations Support Squadron, Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.
Colonel Anderson’s first biology class at the Academy (during the Fall of his sophomore year) confirmed a decision that, nevertheless, wasn’t handed to him. Though he followed his heart to attend the Medical University of Texas Health Science Center to pursue a career as an orthopedic surgeon in 1996, he was initially rejected to medical school due to a large wave of applicants.
“I enjoyed my time as an undergraduate at USAFA, but was disappointed when I didn’t get into medical school the first time I applied,” he reported via email. “I had a health professions scholarship but just didn’t get accepted to a school, which was the first time I had failed to achieve something.”
Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Brett Anderson, a Douglas High School class president and valedictorian, had the courage to continue marching forward.
And that first-time failure, he admitted, turned out to be a good thing.
“I met my wife while doing AF Intelligence and got to experience the ‘real AF’ for a few years before going to school. If I had gone straight through, there were zero Orthopedic Surgery residency positions offered by the USAF when I would have finished medical school, so I would have had to do something else. In general, hard work and perseverance pay off it the end.”
Colonel Anderson’s perseverance certainly has paid off. The orthopedic surgeon who once had trouble with his own shoulder following sports injuries was selected as USAFA Clinical Excellence FGO of the year and became Flight Commander of Surgical Specialties in 2014. He also participated in a fellowship for Orthopedic Sports Medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University (2010- 11), a position that allowed him to rub shoulders with Boston Bruins players while inspiring his (then) five-year-old son, Aidan, to play hockey.
His direction to pursue orthopedics was incidentally swayed (in part) by the numerous surgeries that he underwent as a competitive athlete. “The surgeries allowed me to return to high school sports, so I wanted to do the same for others,” he reported, quick to note, also, that his high school teachers prepared him well for academics at USAFA.
“We had a strong group of teachers in Douglas that gave me a solid foundation. Having the same teacher for numerous years at the small school was great for me. From biology and anatomy with Mr. D’Ambre, multiple years of English with Mrs. Cave, physics and other sciences with Ms. Schwartz, three years of Spanish with Mrs. Meomartino, algebra, geometry, and calculus with Mrs. Farrah, and history with my basketball coach Kevin Connors and others.”
Encouraged by his parents and teachers, and following the line of a proud military family, Anderson received the honor and title of Colonel on March 29 during a solemn promotion ceremony at Travis Air Force Base, one heartened by the lyrics of “The Air Force Song.”
Off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing high into the sun….
Here they come zooming to meet our thunder.
At ‘em boys, Give ‘er the gun!
Down we dive, spouting our flame from under,
Of with one hell of a roar!
We live in fame o go down in flame.
Nothing can stop the U.S. Air Force!
Of his vast collection of medals, which include (among others) a Bronze Star, Air Force Commendation Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and NATO medal, Colonel Anderson remains humble. “I don’t put much thought into the medals,” he said.
Of his deployment this month to Qatar, the fourth one (and the third in the last five years) he is both honest and grateful. “I’m a little burnt out on the war trauma experience and tired of being away from family. Qatar isn’t as busy from a surgical standpoint, which is good for the troops, but bad for clinical proficiency. The deployed experiences are generally very rewarding, especially when you can provide care for local nationals that they wouldn’t otherwise get. Taking care of the wounded troops and getting them home is the best part and I’m extremely honored and privileged to do so.”
In 2016 Lieutenant Colonel Anderson became the Medical Director for Orthopedic Surgery at the 60th MDG at Travis Air Force Base. He is an instructor for Advanced Trauma and Life Support as well as an Associate Master Instructor of Arthroscopy for the Arthroscopy Association of North America. He claims to have “the best job” as an orthopedic surgeon, which blends applied anatomy and mechanical engineering. “We take care of patients that have either broken or injured something and we restore their function (though not always). The vast majority are able to get back to activity within six months of treatment as well. There’s long hours but it’s rewarding.”
Said the Colonel’s father, George Anderson, who served as a Marine from 1966-69, whose father served in the navy, and whose knee replacement surgeon also worked on his son’s injured shoulder many years ago, “We’re a patriotic family.”
Said his mother, Gail Anderson, as proud as a Star Spangled Banner high note, “Brett was always inquisitive as a child. And he loved to do puzzles.”
Mr. and Mrs. Anderson still live in Douglas.