Colorado, Aug. 15, 2005
NRI (non- resident Indian) Mr. Chandru Butani's son Major
Raj Butani MD of the US 2nd Brigade return from Iraq after providing
medical care to U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and civilians.
He departed his home station in Honolulu in June 2004, arriving
initially in Korea to join his unit for pre-deployment training.
His unit reached Kuwait in August 2004 for some additional training
and to receive their vehicles (which were shipped by sea), and
arrived in Ramadi, Iraq in the Al Anbar province later in August.
My duties includes routine primary careeverything from
sports and training-related injuries to medical illnessesas
well as urgent care for combat-related traumas and casualties.
I work with a team of medics, a physician assistant and other
physicians stationed on our Forward Operating Base.
In treating casualties, our job is to stabilize and provide
lifesaving treatment, and then rapidly air-evacuate the patients
who will need urgent surgeries or other types of advanced evaluation
and treatment to higher-level medical facilities. Additionally,
my responsibilities include providing medical oversight, planning
and support for my battalion's combat operations in the region
and on our base.
When he isnt working, Butani contacts his wife at least
a couple times per week via e-mail and or phone.
We manage to keep in touch pretty regularly, Butani
says. They have built up reasonably good Morale-Welfare-Recreation
internet and phone centers on the bases here with reasonable calling
rates, but the lines can get pretty long during peak hours, and
there are time limits on phone calls when there is a wait.
It works well when I'm calling Hawaii, since the time zone
is such that it's off-peak for most people. Internet access is
decent, although of course the servers go down every so often
and other things happen which may temporarily affect service,
such as the underground cables relaying the signal may be run
over by a construction bulldozer, etc.
But overall, its not too bad, especially when you
think about people who served in previous wars, having to wait
weeks just to get a letter. The instant communication via satellite
phones and internet is truly amazing when you think about it.
Butani, who completed the six-year B.A./M.D. combined degree
program with Lehigh (earning a bachelor's degree in premedical
science) and the Medical College of Pennsylvania (now part of
Drexel University) in Philadelphia.
Before his deployment to Iraq, Butani worked as an Army gastroenterologist
at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he lives
with his wife, Mona, a dentist.
major's Iraqi ordeal
New York, August 14, 2005
They could see the buses rolling out across the airbase tarmac
but were not sure their soldier son, Iraq returnee Major Raj Butani
of the US 2nd Brigade, was in one of them.
But Chandru Butani's account of his son's experiences is immediate,
raw, throbbing and is perhaps the first authentic, first-hand
account by an Indian American of life with the US army in Iraq.
Sleeping on top of an ambulance... gazing at the night sky in
a steamy, dark desert... seeing friends blown to pieces...
Butani and his wife had heard from their son sparingly, once
in a while when he could send an e-mail or talk over the phone,
but army regulations did not allow him to give much detail.
Butani explained why they had been 'on the racks' all the while.
Raj had been posted in Ramadi, which forms part of the Sunni Triangle,
an area with the highest resistance to US presence.
"In the first phone call after the convoy reached Ramadi
(a three-day travel from camp Hovey, Kuwait), Raj mentioned that
there was a bit of tension, as they were travelling on a two-way
road and he sounded quite concerned about insurgents and IEDs
(improvised explosive devices).
Butani Sr read from the first e-mail his son had sent out of
the makeshift e-mail centre inside a tent: "There were long,
long stretches of desert sand or gravel where we would 'stage',
or park our vehicles in pitch darkness for overnight rest. I could
sleep in the litters in the back of the ambulance, but due to
the heat it was easier to get out my 'woobie' (like a thin camouflage
blanket), lay it out on the roof and sleep on top of the vehicle.
"I would get a few hours of sleep, and then start the next
day. Lying there and looking at the hundreds of other vehicles
in the middle of the desert night, looking up at the moon and
the night sky somewhere in the middle of Iraq. The whole thing
seemed so unreal.
"I remember thinking 'Could I ever have dreamt of this sitting
at a lecture or on rotation duty at the hospital?' Probably not,
but there are many other things in my life I probably didn't see
coming, and I don't remember regretting any of them. In the end
- hopefully - this will end up being another of those things.
I also remember thinking: hope I don't roll over the wrong way,
fall off this tall vehicle and break my neck or bust my head.
Luckily, that didn't happen either."
Butani's father said, "One of the worst incidents happened
when his physician assistant and closest friend, who shared room
with him at the Ramadi Base, was slain when an IED blew his vehicle
to smithereens. I remember Raj being devastated for several weeks.
Being his closest friend, he read out the eulogy, and he completely
"All the while that Raj was in Iraq, we were watching every
possible news story, trying to guess what really was happening
out there. Raj himself could not tell us much due to military
"As you can imagine, prayer-time increased proportionate
to our anxiety levels, and the extended family and friends were
all involved. I think it must have gotten too much for our deities
in the end," a relieved Butani Sr said with a happy chuckle.
"In early July, we heard that the 2nd Brigade would finally
wind up and return home. As the days inched closer, anxiety peaked.
And Raj had to remain incommunicado.
But finally, the family reached Colorado Springs one day, and
saw the plane touch down, the buses with tinted window glasses
roll out with the returnee patriots and then in the end, bring
them to a large gymnasium for the long awaited, chaotic reunions.
But then, Raj was not there!
"Then we realised that he was being brought in an army limousine,
along with some other officers... rank has some privileges, you
see," smiled a relieved Chandru Butani.