37 years after his Vietnam tour, ‘inspired to get back in’
April 6, 2009
BAGHDAD — Robert Sexton thought he was leaving the Army behind for good when he left in 1970 after a three-year stint that included time in Vietnam.
When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, he thought the war would be over soon. Then it wasn’t.
And a sense of duty began to claw its way into the 59-year-old’s plainclothes life as a doctor in Tucson, Ariz.
By 2005, he felt himself drawn to the war.
"I pretty much had nothing to do with the military from 1970 to 2007," he said.
"But I was inspired to get back in."
After stints in officer candidate basic school and a tactical combat medical course last year—and an age waiver — he is now Maj. Robert Sexton, medical officer for the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion. He left as a specialist in 1970.
Based out of Camp Liberty, Sexton said he spends most of his time traveling around with different teams.
Last week he spent Wednesday tending to Baghdad children during a free clinic put on by U.S. forces.
Sexton was a neonatologist back home, working with premature babies, and he practiced rural medicine in Guatemala, so he’s no stranger to Third World health care.
His son, Lance Cpl. Owen Sexton, is a Marine deployed to Afghanistan. He’ll head there late this year when his Iraq tour is up.
"My desire was to contribute in some way," he said. "It’s so hard to get physicians to come here."
Sexton said he’s in good health and can do "most of the things the young guys do."
His wife is OK with his choice, he said.
"She was with me 40 years ago," Sexton said of his Vietnam deployment.
"We went through this before when we didn’t have all these ways to communicate. It took us three to six weeks to exchange letters."
Sexton’s father was a German Jew who escaped a Nazi roundup by 30 minutes, and his wife is a naturalized citizen.
"Unlike us, she doesn’t take freedom for granted," he said. "She supports me 100 percent. If it was only 99, I wouldn’t be here."
While training and a career prepared him, Sexton said it’s still hard to see and treat the multitudes of destitute Iraqi children.
"They’re so stoic and tough," he said. "They don’t even know they have a problem."
In the end, he’s just trying to join an effort far greater than any one man.
"It’s a privilege and an honor to wear this uniform again," Sexton said.