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With House colleagues watching, US Rep. Wenstrup receives military promotion

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio.

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

By JESSICA WEHRMAN | The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 4, 2017

WASHINGTON — In the hours before President Donald Trump gave his first speech before a joint session of Congress last week, another, less high-profile ceremony also took place on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, an Army Reservist, in a room filled with congressional colleagues, military and family members including wife Monica, was promoted from lieutenant colonel to colonel. His toddler son, Brad Junior, 3, periodically wandered over to his father and climbed up on his lap. His parents, Joan and Jack, were in the crowd.

Wenstrup had been promoted before but had never had a ceremony; he had just changed his uniform. But this time, the Army liaison urged him to, if not to for himself, then to honor the family members who support him while he serves. His promotion puts him at the helm of the 7457th Medical Backfill Battalion, based in Richmond, Va. The work is mostly administrative; much can be done from Washington. In the military, he said, "your promotion isn't about what you've done. It's about what's being expected of you next."

A former colleague, retired Col. David Brandt, recalled his service with Wenstrup in 2005 and 2006, when the two men worked at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. There, they'd operate on service members, civilians and even some of the most notorious members of the Saddam Hussein regime.

At the time, there was a deck of cards with the 52 most wanted of the Iraqi regime. Wenstrup was tasked with providing top-notch care for the group. "He never once forgot about his Hippocratic oath, regardless of who the patient was," Brandt said.

"It wasn't up to us to decide what they were or who they were or what they were about," he said. "Our job was to do the right thing and cure whoever we could cure."

Wenstrup's living quarters were a cell — he and Brandt were both in Cell Block D. Their hospital was a dilapidated garage. And Wenstrup, Brandt said, was a total professional from the start.

Abu Ghraib was sometimes deemed too dangerous to deliver supplies to, so Wenstrup's was among the units that would go and get them — a dangerous but necessary mission. His service, Brandt said, "was remarkable," and he went from "young, green Army surgeon to a combat-tested, battle-hardened Army professional who always thought mission first, but men always, soldiers always." He received a Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge for his service.

"He'd be the first to tell you he'd do it all over again in a heartbeat," said Brandt.

Wenstrup, in an interview, put it another way: "I describe deployment as the worst thing I ever had to do, but also the best thing I got to do because of the people I worked with."

After his deployment, he stayed in the reserves. As a freshmen member of Congress, he'd often travel to nearby Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he'd care for some of the injured veterans returning home. He plans to continue to do so even with his new responsibilities.

Wenstrup, 58, who represents Ohio's 2nd Congressional District, signed up to serve in 1998. He'd heard of local doctors who were serving, and he liked the idea of being able to help. At the time, he was a podiatrist in private practice in Cincinnati.

But his entry into the military was delayed: he was a bone marrow donor to his sister, a leukemia survivor, and he wanted to wait until she'd reached the five-year survivorship mark before he left.

Joining the military, he said, changed his life. "I consider it the best club I've ever joined," he said.

©2017 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com
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