Maj. Raj Butani, M.D. with a mechanized track ambulance at his Battalion Aid Station in Ramadi, Iraq, earlier this year.
Maj. Raj Butani, M.D. wanted to attend his 10-year Lehigh reunion last fall, but wasn’t able to make it. He was in Ramadi, Iraq, where he’s stationed as a battalion surgeon and medical officer.
So his fellow members of the Class of 1994, at the suggestion of class reunion chair Dana Moyles, did the next best thing. They sent a piece of Lehigh over to Iraq—putting together a care package during reunion weekend and mailing it to Butani’s barracks.
Needless to say, Butani was touched by his classmates’ gesture.
“When I came home to my barracks room and saw the care package from Lehigh, I was pretty floored and somewhat incredulous. I initially wasn’t even sure how my Lehigh class officially knew I was in Iraq, much less how they got my mailing address here. But then I remembered that a while back I had RSVP’d that I was deployed with the Army and therefore unable to make it to the 10-year reunion. The address thing became clear a bit later, when I realized that our class reunion chair, Dana Moyles, had co-conspired with my wife.”
The Lehigh connection
Moyles happily pleads guilty to being a co-conspirator.
“Raj’s wife was very sweet,” Moyles says. “She thought it was so nice of us to send the care package and she remarked how Raj had said it was the best care package that he’s gotten since he’s been in Iraq. I’m so glad that we did it.”
Butani certainly had a ball opening up the goodies in the care package—which included Lehigh clothing, toiletry items, junk food, playing cards, and a special 10-year reunion coaster, among other items.
“We just felt like it was the right thing for our class to do,” Moyles says. “And the response from our alums who came back for the 10th anniversary was amazing. Almost everyone who was there signed the card. And a bunch of people from the Class of 1994 went over to the bookstore and got some clothes—some ‘Beat Lafayette’ T-shirts and Lehigh fleece jackets—to put in the care packages for both Raj Butani and Ron Lanzo. We just wanted them to know that we were thinking about them.”
Lanzo, another member of the Class of 1994, is a U.S. Army captain deployed to Iraq. “He’s assigned to help in the area of Iraqi security forces training and is stationed in Baghdad,” Butani says. “He e-mailed me out of the blue after learning that I am also here, which was a nice surprise.
“There is also another young Lehigh R.O.T.C. alum who is deployed here with my battalion, 1st Lieutenant Melvin Lowe ’02. It’s interesting to share Lehigh stories with him, and even more interesting to hear from him about all the changes and new things that have sprung up in just 10 short years since I graduated from Lehigh.”
While the gifts from his Lehigh classmates were appreciated, the thing that clearly touched Butani the most was the oversized card that was signed by nearly everyone who attended Lehigh’s 10-year reunion.
“The most noteworthy and moving item was the large, customized card, thanking me for my service and signed by members of the class,” Butani says. “There were various messages of good wishes, prayers, and thoughts which were quite uplifting.
“One particular message that caught my attention was from Glenn MacKenzie, a good friend and freshman year hallmate (Richards Dorm, B-2) who I lost touch with many years ago.”
From Hawaii to Iraq
The care package also stirred up lots of old college memories for the well-traveled 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.
“The beautiful campus at Lehigh, as with most things, is much more appreciated now than at the time. Especially with all the dirt, sand and relative lack of foliage here in this part of the Middle East,” Butani says.
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. Even in Hawaii, Butani remains very much plugged into the Lehigh scene.
“Soon after I moved to Honolulu in 2002, I found out that there was a Lehigh Alumni Club, and I came to learn we have a good group of alums of all ages there,” Butani says. “In addition to making some instant friends, I have taken part in some fun and interesting activities, including prospective student dinners, college fairs (promoting Lehigh to local high school students), and attending the Aloha Wrestling Tournament in 2004, which brought our excellent Lehigh wrestlers to town.”
Life has changed quite a bit for Butani over the past year. 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. Butani is in the midst of a one-year deployment and expects to return home late this summer.
In the meantime, he is quite busy as a battalion surgeon and medical officer in Iraq.
“My duties include providing medical care to U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and civilians,” Butani says. “This includes routine primary care—everything from sports and training-related injuries to medical illnesses—as 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 isn’t 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, it’s 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.”
Lehigh Alumni Bulletin Online
Posted on Tuesday, March 08, 2005