Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Navy Veteran Donnelly Wilkes, who served two tours during Operation Iraqi Freedom as a combat medical doctor.
A California native, Donnelly Wilkes earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Irvine. Through a Navy scholarship, he continued his education at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, Louisiana.
After graduating from medical school in July 2002, Wilkes commissioned as a Navy lieutenant. Under normal circumstances, Wilkes would have completed a three-year family medicine residency. However, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Wilkes departed for active duty earlier than expected. His first tour of duty was in Fallujah, Iraq, as the battalion surgeon for the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines at Camp Mercury.
At Camp Mercury, Wilkes helped deliver medical support at a field battalion aid station. For six months, Wilkes provided lifesaving medical aid to Marines in a volatile location with frequent attacks.
During his first day there, a firefight injured a Marine. Unfortunately, Wilkes and his team were unable to save him. Deeply saddened by this loss and their inability to treat him, they circled around the fallen solider and prayed for him. A photographer captured the moment. The photo went on to become a Pulitzer Prize winning piece and a Life Magazine cover.
After his deployment, Wilkes transferred to the 1st Combat Engineers Battalion at Camp Pendleton. Wilkes finished his residency training at Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital in June 2005 and became a board-certified family physician.
In July 2007, he became the senior medical officer for the primary care clinic at Port Hueneme Naval Base in Oxnard, California. He made decisions regarding all aspects of patient care and oversaw four physicians, four nurse practitioners and a physician assistant.
In February 2008, Wilkes returned to Al Qa’im, Iraq, for his second tour of duty. He was the executive officer of a Shock Trauma Platoon, based out of Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Wilkes provided emergency and primary medical care for over 2,500 people. He also served as the senior consultant for ancillary services on base in Al Qa’im.
After returning from Iraq, Wilkes continued to care for active-duty members until he completed his service. He received a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Combat “V” during the Battle of Fallujah.
After leaving the service in July 2009, Wilkes began his own family medicine practice. Today, he serves as president and medical director of the practice and lives with his wife and three daughters in Westlake Village, California.
Wilkes also recently wrote an autobiography, Code Red Fallujah: A Doctor’s Memoir at War, about his experience during the Battle of Fallujah.
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Writer: Katherine Berman
Editor: Julia Pack and Katie Wang
Fact checker: Kinsley Ballas
Graphic artist: Helen Strohmier