Army doctor proactive in trying to keep patients and society healthy

Col. Brian Rees, commander of the 349th General Hospital, a California reserve unit, examines a patient at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Rees is a family practice doctor and has accompanied his unit as it begins a rotation at the hospital.


By LISA HORN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 5, 2004

LANDSTUHL, Germany — Dr. (Col.) Brian Rees is not a typical Army officer. He writes books on healing the world, meditates twice a day and practices yoga to clear his mind.

It’s that clear thinking that has won Rees the respect of his soldiers and his patients.

“All the soldiers love him,” said Staff Sgt. James Cauley, a 349th reservist. “He’s a really level- headed guy.”

The colonel in command of the Los Angeles-based 349th General Hospital, currently serving as a family practice physician at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, is a published author of a book on terrorism and another on ayurvedic health methods. Ayurveda is a holistic system of medicine from India that aims to provide guidance on food and lifestyle so that healthy people can stay healthy and people with illnesses can improve their health. Rees’ most recent book, “Terrorism, Retaliation and Victory,” promotes psychological operations as a way to prevent future terror attacks and minimize casualties.

“The bottom line is, ultimately, there are things that you can do and can’t do militarily,” Rees said.

Preventing problems before they arise is also how he looks at medicine in a society that focuses more on treating diseases than on preventive care, said Rees, who titled his first book, “Heal Yourself, Heal Your World.”

“[Our medical system] is really a ‘disease-care’ system,” he said. “It focuses on the management of illnesses, rather than on the prevention of disease and the promotion of health.”

Rees said he takes the same proactive approach to his soldiers that he does to medicine.

“I try to help my subordinates keep things in perspective. I’m not averse to stressing people if they need to be stressed,” he said. “But, generally, in dealing with my subordinates and something has gone wrong, you have to decide if it’s a matter of will or a matter of skill.”

In the largest mobilization of the 349th’s history, roughly 300 soldiers will serve at Landstuhl for 18 months. Despite the long rotation, Rees said his troops are in good spirits.

“The family separation, that’s difficult. But, I’ve been telling them since I took command that everybody should know what they’re getting into,” said Rees, who is married with two teenagers at home.

“It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but a matter of ‘when,’ and there are various places to go, and if you get sent to Germany, you drew the lucky straw.

“[Being here] is a lot more comfortable, more secure, than going downrange.”

Rees, who normally works as a family practice physician at a prison in San Luis Obispo, Calif., got a special waiver to accompany his unit for 90 days while his soldiers adjust to their new duty station. Ordinarily, the commander stays behind, Rees said, unless the entire unit has been mobilized.

“In retrospect, I really didn’t need to come along,” Rees joked. “They’re doing just fine here on their own.”

“There are some commanders who are kind of hard to approach, but when I see him interacting with his soldiers, he’s very personable,” said Dr. (Maj.) Yong H. Chun, chief of family practice at Landstuhl. “I think his soldiers respect him for that.”