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Lt. Col. Vladimir Berkovich, musician turned medical officer

By Sgt. Elizabeth Raney | 364th Press Camp Headquarters | Aug. 9, 2015

Friday, June 12, 2015 — OACOMA, S.D. – Lt. Col. Vladimir Berkovich, is a medical doctor with chiropractic and acupuncture experience, and a member of the 7207th Medical Support Unit, Northeast Medical Area Readiness Support Group, Webster, New York, but his journey is not an ordinary story. 

Berkovich was born in Brest, Russia, and served his mandatory term in the Russian military. Like many, Berkovich felt the military was not for him. 

After his military service was complete, he went to a music conservatory in his home country and earned a degree in percussion instruments, but soon again found that his heart was not in it, he said. 

“I liked what I did as a musician, but when I thought I wanted to be a medical doctor, it was way too late,” said Berkovich. “Not a single glimpse of any opportunity.”

Growing up in Russia, if you are not a medical doctor by22, maybe 23 years old, you don’t have a chance, stated Berkovich. 

In 1981, at age 24, he left Russia to pursue his dream at the medical program at Stony Brook University in New York, which the colonel said was a very welcoming community for the émigré.

“This is also a unique thing,” he said. “A wonderful thing about the United States … here all the gates were open.”

While he was in college, a classmate introduced Berkovich to chiropractics, piquing his interest in the field.  

“I had never heard this word before, ‘chiropractic,’ and I asked him: ‘Tell me what it is all about,’” he said. “In my mind, because I didn’t have a point of reference, I saw this as a medical doctor. At that time in the former Soviet Union, doctor meant only one thing, a medical doctor, so I never knew that you have all different array of doctors.”

There was another surprise.  

“Don’t laugh,” he said with a smile. “It was about six months before I realized it was not a medical school, but at the time I liked it so much, I decided I enjoyed it and to continue.”

After graduating from New York Chiropractic College, Berkovich said he practiced chiropractics until his desire to continue his education and abilities led him to return to college to earn his doctoral degree at New Jersey’s Ross University School of Medicine. 

Soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, the Russian applied to join the Army, but he was not enlisted until 2003.  

The attacks that day were a significant pivot in his life, he said. 

“I never thought of the Army before because, as every Russian, I served in the Russian and it didn’t have a good taste,” he said. 

But, the former drummer said he wanted to do his part, for the country that allowed him to chase his dreams. “The United States Army came to me as a breath of fresh air to see that totally different model. I was amazed. I don’t know about any other force, but I know that in the Army they encourage you to get involved with your education, improving your career.”

Since commissioning as a medical officer, Berkovich has deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait in various types of positions, including deputy commander of clinical services in a combat support hospital in 2013. 

The doctor said he has made great strides to better himself and follow his dreams in his 12 years of service. He is married with two young boys, ages 8 and 10.

“Joining the Army, it was a very big thing for a couple of reasons,” Berkovich said. 

“It actually fulfilled me. I was obviously already a United States citizen prior to that, but joining the Army made me feel like an American,” he said. “I no longer care that I have an accent. The moment I joined the Army, it gave me a special feeling of belonging, so I never regret it.”