A service-oriented life

Joe Clem ('89) provides medical support in Baghdad
By Matt Skirven ('06)

Joe Clem ('89) is assigned to the 883rd Medical Company in Baghdad

Joe Clem ('89) is assigned to the 883rd Medical Company in Baghdad

Commander Joe Clem ('89) lives and breathes service. In addition to serving his country, he also serves his military comrades as a Navy psychiatrist assigned to the 883rd Medical Company in and around Baghdad, Iraq.

A Duke remembers

Clem began developing his service-oriented lifestyle at Madison. An active member in JMU's Catholic Campus Ministry, Clem volunteered in Harrisonburg and surrounding communities. Clem says, "My favorite memories of JMU were actually just off campus at the CCM house, where I developed lasting friendships to this day -- one who just wrote a letter yesterday to me in Iraq." Clem also recalled one of his fondest memories from his time at JMU. "Perhaps the most fun I had was during the semester abroad in London program. I almost felt guilty getting credits for going to the theater and taking guided walking trips through the city."

From JMU to medical school

After graduating from Madison with a degree in psychology, Clem was commissioned to the U.S. Navy with the intention of not only serving his country, but also achieving his own dream of attending medical school. "The military had (and still has) this great offer: get paid a full salary while attending their medical school, USUHS [Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences]." Clem proudly says he was prepared well for life after college, especially medical school. "JMU prepared me well for medical school, though it was a bear," he says. "Probably the enduring friendships and faith I gained from JMU and CCM were more instrumental in enduring the long hours of study and training in the hospitals than the academics."

"JMU prepared me well for medical school"

Since graduating from the USUHS, Clem has been stationed at the Naval Medical Centers in Bethesda, Md., and Portsmouth, Va., the Naval Hospital in Bremerton, Wash., and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Clem also served briefly in Keflavik, Iceland, San Antonio and Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Military mind games

As a psychiatrist, Clem is primarily responsible for completing evaluations, psychotherapy and sometimes administering medication treatment to his patients. He also coordinates care and recommendations with commands to ensure that various mission requirements are met and individual patient's needs are addressed. About his patient variety Clem says, "We treat any persons presenting for care including all branches of the U.S. military, coalition military, civilian contractors, detainees and Iraqi nationals." Clem even recalled, "At one small base, one of my medics cleaned and dressed a 4-year-old local boy who had fallen from a tree and had superficial cuts."

In a setting such as Iraq, one might expect psychiatrists to have plenty of patients and work. But Clem admits the situation is quite the opposite. "The workload is lighter than working stateside. The flow is erratic. It often is dependent upon the varying stresses folks are facing from the operations here and, even more often, from difficulties they are facing from the home front."

Love and support from another Duke

Fortunately Clem found a fellow Duke, AnaMari Azcarate ('89), to support and share in his adventures around the country. "AnaMari and I first met by volunteering through CCM to help a shelter for abused women and children in West Virginia during my first year. By our last year, we were engaged." Clem boasts, "The wedding was huge, over 500 people, because we were on the heels of graduating JMU and couldn't trim the list of all the folks we connected with at college."

The Clem family

The Clem family

The future

Clem is due to retire from the military in 2013. At that time he hopes to continue his career as a child psychiatrist in either group or private practice, but says he will "let my wife and kids' needs take priority, given the huge sacrifices they have made for my career with moving and deployments." Clem is hopeful that one of his six children -- Joey (15), Peter (13), Matthew (12), David (10), Ani (9), and Carmen (6) -- will someday find their way to Harrisonburg. "Hopefully we'll have reason to visit one or more of them as future Dukes on the JMU campus in the future."