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Doc begins 'service before self' at 61

SOUTHWEST ASIA - U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Joseph Keenan, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group flight doctor, checks a patient's throat June 26, 2012. Keenan is a flight doctor assigned to the 131st Fighter Squadron in his home town of Westfield, Mass. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Amanda Savannah)

Lt. Col. (Dr.) Joseph Keenan, a 380th Expeditionary Medical Group flight doctor, checks a patient's throat in Southwest Asia on June 26, 2012. Keenan is a flight doctor assigned to the 131st Fighter Squadron in his hometown of Westfield, Mass. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Amanda Savannah)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Walking into the office of Lt. Col. (Dr.) Joseph Keenan, one could possibly imagine him in private practice in his home town -- the warm, caring doctor the community has known for many years.

But his Air Force "community" has only known him for two years.

Keenan, who has been an ear, nose and throat doctor for more than 30 years, will celebrate his third anniversary of becoming an Air National Guard member in October. It will also be his 64th birthday.

As he got older, the more he realized how fortunate he was to be born in America, said Keenan, who is a flight doctor assigned to the 131st Fighter Squadron in his home town of Westfield, Mass.

"All four of my grandparents were immigrants from different countries," he said. "They came here because there was more opportunity. I just realized that as I got older, how lucky I was here and how good life was to me."

He initially was unsure of his ability to achieve that desire, knowing there were age restrictions to joining the military. He said he came to realize that he could receive an age waiver and decided to try to join.

His first application was unsuccessful.

"It was only when one of the (approval authority) colonels who was deployed to Afghanistan came back," Keenan said. "He looked at my credentials and said, 'We're going to try everything possible to get this guy in.'"

The process took about a year and included many steps, the final being with the secretary of the Air Force, Keenan said. He was finally sworn in on his 61st birthday.

"It was really quite a time for celebration, one of the best birthday presents I could have received," he said.

Not only has the doctor gained new patients at his Guard unit, he was sent far from home to treat others.

Keenan is currently assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Medical Group on his first deployment. Though he said the majority of his patients here are young and healthy and are seen for urgent care matters, he has had a few opportunities to assist with patients during temporary duty in Afghanistan.

"I was at Bagram and Kandahar and saw first-hand the sacrifices that are being made by the troops over there," Keenan said. "(I saw) how the coalition partners work with the nationalities that we deal with, and how seamless the medical care is that is being delivered to the troops in the field."

Keenan said he has been very happy with his life as a guardsman.

"It's one of the best decisions I've ever made to join the United States Air Force," he said. "I'm having a great time and I feel so fortunate to be able to serve my country. I know from the feedback I get that people are very happy that I'm here and doing what I'm doing. It's just been a win-win situation for everything."

Lt. Col. Christopher Borchardt, the 380th EMDG deputy commander, said he most appreciates Keenan's attitude.

"I can train someone to be a doctor, but I can't train enthusiasm," Borchardt said. "It's difficult to recruit doctors, so when one steps forward, willing to accept the challenges and hardships imposed on their families and lifestyle, it is truly a force multiplier for this mission and the Air Force. Our patients have already benefitted from his unique skills and experience, and I know he's been having the time of his life contributing to our mission."