FIRESTONE — The night before he deployed to Iraq last November, Dr. Clint Flanagan ordered five bouquets from a Longmont florist and wrote five cards.
He had hoped to cheer up his wife and toddler daughter with the flowers and notes on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, his wife’s 34th birthday and Valentine’s Day.
Had Flanagan, 34, been killed during his three-month Army National Guard tour, the gesture might have proved “surreal,”
But in mid-February, he returned without a scratch to his family and his job as a family physician at Carbon Valley Medical Center.
On Tuesday night, he shared 240 slides and various stories with 45 people gathered at the new center.
Some images looked plucked from a newspaper photo file. The photos showed a khaki-colored country with near-empty highways, bent palm trees and convoys looking like porcupines with all the gunners in firing position.
Others, however, showed more mundane scenes: a gingerbread house on the Christmas buffet table; soldiers sipping from non-alcoholic Budweiser cans marked in scrolling Arabic; a workout room filled with new treadmills.
As a photo of a soldier riding a camel flickered across the screen, one woman privately complained that Flanagan’s presentation seemed more like a sugar-coated travelog.
Boulder County resident Bob Morse, 73, agreed as the lights came up.
“We all know that war isn’t pretty, but we didn’t see that tonight,” he said.
What they saw was one person’s perspectives of the country.
And Flanagan certainly felt the danger. He carried a gun on his right hip, even while exercising, he said.
Mortar rounds once came within 100 yards of him. And soldiers understood that insurgents could be hiding among them.
“In Iraq, you never knew,” he said.
“It could be the guys cooking your food.”
But as a family doctor, this reservist — who joined the Guard in 1998 to help pay for medical school — usually worked in lower-profile positions.
He said he mainly conducted hundreds of Personal Data Health Assessments and logged answers into a handheld computer.
A clean bill of health from him cleared soldiers to ship out for the United States.
“It was a pretty gratifying job, sending people home,” he said.
Flanagan explained that the rest of his work resembled that of a small-town physician.
Serving a camp population of between 3,000 and 6,000 soldiers usually involved treating stomach aches, fevers and the occasional trauma, he said.
“I didn’t really think tonight was about trauma and gore,” he told the audience, who thanked him with a standing ovation before leaving.
Instead, Flanagan’s stream of photos reflected how mundane life can be under even the most high-alert conditions.
Flanagan slept in mobile home-like boxes called Closed Housing Units or, in the Army’s acronym-heavy lingo, CHUs (pronounced “chews”).
One photo documented the Nebraska native’s humble accommodations, complete with a Nebraska Huskers pennant tacked over his bed.
He also wore thick-framed, Army-issue glasses, an object that earned an unofficial acronym, BCGs — “birth control glasses” — for being remarkably unattractive.
And despite his advanced education and high rank, he took “combat showers” just like a lowly specialist. He recalled showering under the moonlight with ice-cold water in a plywood stall.
Yet as a doctor, he almost always flew from camp to camp in Blackhawk choppers for the security advantage.
That privileged transportation gave him some memorable perspectives.
One photo, for instance, showed a lone man herding goats in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. That, he said, was a common sight.
Such ancient traditions turned up on his film, along with shots of soldiers lining up for $3 cups of Starbucks coffee and a German shepherd drug dog sniffing around the barracks.
During his one and only convoy — to a small remote base near the Iranian border called Magic Mountain — he got photos of the war-torn infrastructure. Gigantic holes along the roadside showed where a chain of improvised explosive devices had been detonated by insurgents.
Despite the danger and the damage he encountered, Flanagan told the audience that U.S. efforts in Iraq were not for naught.
“In the end, it’s going to be a better place for the Iraqis,” he said.
Pam Mellskog can be reached at
303-684-5224, or by e-mail at