Dispatches from the Horn of Africa

Jeffrey A. Lowell, MD, is deployed as a U.S. Navy surgeon at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti

Jeffrey A. Lowell, MD, a professor of surgery and of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is also a commander in the U.S. Navy.

In St. Louis, he treats patients at St. Louis Children’s and Barnes-Jewish hospitals. But when deployed, he treats U.S military service members and, at times, citizens of countries in the places he’s sent.

In December, he was sent on his second deployment, this time to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, Africa. In 2011, he was deployed to the U.S. Army Hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.

Q: Tell us about where you are and some details about that part of the world.


Camp Lemonnier is in the Horn of Africa and is the only U.S. military base in Africa. There are about 4,000 service members here, and it’s a joint base (Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines). There’s an airfield, and there also are boat and amphibious operations that take place here. We are near countries that have experienced a good deal of strife — Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan.

Q: What is the camp like?

It’s really, really hot and humid here. The heat index recently was about 150. It’s very brown here — all sand, dirt and rocks. There are lots of camels and goats around here and also, unfortunately, snakes and scorpions.

It’s a good idea to be on the lookout for scorpions.

We have a coffee shop called the Green Bean, a large galley where we eat all of our meals, and a small recreation center. Most on the base live in metal containers called containerized living units (CLUs). Deployments here are for seven months to a year, depending on your job.

Q: What is your job there?

My main job is as the sole surgeon in the expeditionary medical facility. Working with me are an anesthesia provider, one nurse and two corpsman who are my surgical assistants and perform all of the supply functions, from ordering to sterilization of equipment. There are also several other providers, including an emergency physician, flight surgeon, family practice physician, dentist and physician’s assistant. They and others manage sick calls and injuries that don’t require surgery. Medical evacuation is usually to Landstuhl, Germany, 4,000 miles away, where we fly patients when needed.

Surgery at a Ministry of Health hospital in Djibouti.

Our primary mission is emergency and resuscitative surgery for service members who become injured or ill in this part of the world, which also includes the Navy ships that are off the coast of east Africa. We also take care of emergencies such as surgery for appendicitis and severe infections.

Q: How long have you been in the military? Tell us why you chose this path and how it’s affected you as a surgeon.

Service members love care packages.

I received my commission after 9/11 and have been in uniformed service for about nine years. I feel very fortunate to be able to make a contribution to our nation, by caring for soldiers, sailors and Marines, as well as our coalition partners. I also have enjoyed medical exchange missions with host-nation surgeons and foreign military surgeons, as well as several humanitarian assistance missions.

Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to take care of the sick and injured in places such as Estonia, Australia and in Central and South America. I’ve also had the opportunity to teach — and learn — in such places.

Q: We understand you’ve received some care packages from Washington University.

Residents of Camp Lemonnier are thankful for a recent care package from Washington University.

There are some wonderful people who are very thoughtful and kind in providing terrific care packages to deployed service members. Jill Edwards and her Military Care Project Team at the university put big smiles on lots of faces with their great gifts and homemade baked goods. Kind thoughts and deeds like these are incredibly appreciated and definitely help morale. They are terrific folks!

Jeffrey A. Lowell relaxes with colleagues at the camp coffee shop. Pictured (from left) are Lt. Commander Eileen Davis, a surgical nurse; Lowell; Lt. Justin Grove, a chaplain; and Lt. Tatayana Muirhead, an emergency room nurse.