Seattle doctor joins America's Army Reserve at age 51

By Lorelei Harris | United States Army Recruiting Command | March 11, 2019

SEATTLE, Wash. — Service involves sacrifice — a fact of which Lt. Col. Stephen Bayles, M.D., F.A.C.S., has been aware his entire life. 

“Everybody in my family did duty time,” Lt. Col. Bayles said. “My grandfather ultimately retired as a brigadier general after being a pilot in World War II and Korea. He was a prisoner of war and survived a 600-mile winter death march in WWII.”

His father and uncle served, as well. 

“And then there was me,” Lt. Col. Bayles said. “I always had a draw because of those family ties to the military, and a sense of service. But with schooling and then a family, it never felt like the right time…and I gave up on the dream of possibly serving my country.”

Until recently. Last month, Lt. Col. Bayles commissioned into the U.S. Army Reserve at the age of 51. He has been assigned to the 1888th Head and Neck Medical Detachment, 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, where he will work part-time in addition to his civilian job.

Lt. Col. Bayles has been practicing medicine for more than two decades as an otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat doctor). He specializes in head and neck cancer and reconstructive surgery, which he was partly inspired to pursue following his mother’s battle with neck cancer. After positively impacting many lives in the civilian world, he’s now looking forward to caring for those who serve.

“Being at the midpoint of my career and having ascended to the point I’m at, what I do on a daily basis has become almost too easy and routine,” Lt. Col. Bayles said. “I found myself needing to find new reasons for why I wanted to go to work. To give something back to people who are selflessly sacrificing on my behalf seemed like a great reason.”

Lt. Col. Bayles’s final push to join the Army Reserve was ushered in a few years ago when he was dropping off his son, Cadet Wesley Bayles, at The United States Military Academy at West Point. The proud father said he realized his children’s generation is now being asked to stand in harm’s way and defend the nation, a call he felt persistently as a younger man. Now in the prime of his medical career, Lt. Col. Bayles knew he had a highly valuable skill set to offer the Army. The call to serve rang again. 

“I felt an immense pride knowing that my dad wanted to utilize his unique skills in a new capacity that would help people,” West Point Cadet Bayles said. “I really respect his decision. It helped renew my own commitment to an Army career.”

Cadet Bayles is excited for the opportunity to grow closer to his father through this shared experience. He is similarly eager to carry forward a family tradition and is impressed by his father’s selflessness at this point in his medical career. 

Some people were surprised by the doctor’s decision to join, thinking he was — not so delicately put — “too old” to join the military. But for the right candidates, the Army is prepared to waive age requirements in order to acquire the leadership and prowess of professionals like Lt. Col. Bayles. The exchange for a seasoned doctor is gaining access to a world of new challenges and learning opportunities unique to the military medical field. 

“To be able to do something different than my civilian career is intriguing,” Lt. Col. Bayles said. “Getting to deal with challenging environments with issues of triage, medical evacuation, mass casualty, and disaster relief efforts…those things are not things I do on a daily basis. To be academically and mentally challenged in a new way is really exciting at this point in my career.”

The newly commissioned doctor will join his military veteran uncle, among other family, in honoring Cadet Bayles in May 2020 at West Point graduation. While his Army career will look vastly different from Lt. Col. Bayles’s, Cadet Bayles deeply respects and values his father’s path as both a son and Soldier. 

“Diversity of thought is critical to operating on the modern battlefield,” Cadet Bayles said. “And I would encourage any professional interested in making a positive change in their lives to consider serving in the military in some capacity.”