Dr. Robert Lorinser’s successful career in medicine spans 30 years as a family-practitioner, hospitalist, resident director, and teacher. In 2011, an unexpected career-move would expand his medical horizons to an international stage. Dr. Lorinser and his wife Peggy embarked upon a seven-year journey with the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service. It’s taken them around the world. Their new jobs more than fulfill a patriotic duty to serve their country; it’s become an adventure of a life-time.
His patients and friends in Marquette, MI know him endearingly as “Dr. Bob”. In 2011, like many baby-boomers, retirement for Dr. Bob was fast approaching. The children had grown, the house was empty. Bob and Peggy wanted to travel, to experience new cultures, and visit exotic places. Unlike many retirees, the Lorinsers’ travel-plans no longer land them in vacation hot-spots, but hot-spots of a different kind – terror zones, and high-security military bases. For the past four years, Bob and Peggy have called ‘Home’ to places like Islamabad, Pakistan, and Seoul, South Korea. In three months they’ll pack up for two year excursion in Baghdad, Iraq.
“It was by accident that I started my career with the Foreign Service,” said Robert Lorinser. “I was a satisfied accomplished physician living in a great town with wonderful friends. I was at the peak of my career when we began the application process.”
It’s not a typical job-application. Most that join the Foreign Service go through a four hour written exam, a one day oral group exam, medical clearance, and a security investigation. In Marquette, a State Department contractor personally interviewed Dr. Lorinser’s close associates. Neighbors, friends, co-workers, employers, and acquaintances included the city’s Mayor and former Marquette City Chief of Police. All were professionally grilled as investigators probed through Bob and Peggy’s personal backgrounds. With unfettered access to police records, medical history, financial and tax records, an extensive background check qualified Bob and Peggy Lorinser for the U.S. government’s highest security clearance. The Top-Secret status merely placed the two applicants on a register until appropriate positions opened up overseas. The process can take 9-24 months. Of the 20,000 who took the exam, 500 or so were hired, including both Bob and Peggy Lorinser.
He says it was actually his youngest son, Peter Lorinser that introduced him to the Foreign Service. At the time, Peter was a Political Science major at Holy Cross College, and was briefly mentored by University alum Ambassador Thomas. Thomas was the Director General of Foreign Service in 2010, and had encouraged the then-22-year-old to join. Peter called home to consult his father. “My son’s phone call changed my life and that of my family,” said Dr. Lorinser. “After a short 18 month application process I found myself a doctor in the Foreign Service. Instead of Peter, I was on an airplane to Islamabad Pakistan where I serviced my first post.” His son would opt instead for an internship with Senator John Kerry, and later another for the State Department in Washington, DC.
The U.S. State Department is made up of a Civil Service and a Foreign Service. The Foreign Service carries out public policy. They also shape and direct it. “We are Washington DC’s ears and eyes on the ground,” said Lorinser. “We articulate and promote American policies, practices, values, ideals, and ideas. We also provide feedback to our leaders back home to change, modify, or discontinue what we find as not meeting diplomatic goals.” Ultimately, the focus is on U.S. national security. Strategies of security, prosperity and promoting American ideals of human rights, democracy, and equality are the fundamental goals of the U.S. Foreign Service.
In just four short years, the Lorinsers will serve in two “expeditionary” posts, Pakistan (2011-2012), and Iraq (2014-2016). Generally, the term expeditionary diplomacy means combining civilian efforts to stabilize and build nations while fighting a “war”. Typically “war” is meant as USA against the host country – examples are pre-2012 Iraq, and currently Afghanistan. Expeditionary is also a classification for countries that are not actively engaged in military conflict, and for various reasons includes places like Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan. It’s considered a synonym for hazard zones.
Most expeditionary embassies are large and heavily fortified. Baghdad is the largest and most fortified embassy in the world. Posts are shorter, Baghdad asks for a one year stay. Bob and Peggy volunteered for two repeat one-year posts, doubling their stay to 24 months. Why go there? “It attracts some of the Foreign Service’s finest and highly motivated personnel, one of who I hope I am,” explained Dr. Lorinser. “Some don’t go to Baghdad because they disagree with our policies in the area,” he added. Since military operations have ceased in Iraq, these conscientious objections are now decreasing, but Dr. Lorinser says the secondary reason the post is avoided is because of security concerns and its unaccompanied nature. “Most go because of a sense of duty and patriotism, or the extra pay and benefits, including linked future assignments and promotions. It seems like I have all of these reasons.”
An ‘unaccompanied post’ means no family members, no children, no visitors, and no unauthorized tourism. With it, comes the added bonus of ‘Danger-Pay’, and three months of R&R breaks. “How he talked me into it, I don’t know,” said Peggy Lorinser. “The embassy is in the Green Zone, but we can’t leave it or travel beyond the walls of the compound.” Military fortified helicopters will take them to and from the airport. For unarmed U.S. diplomats, even post-war Iraq has considerable dangers.
Bob and Peggy have extra talent that Baghdad needs. His senior experience in the medical field makes Dr. Lorinser a better candidate for the high pressure post. They each graduated with BAs in Social Work and Sociology, and their previous posts and travel experiences enable the duo to respectfully deal with others from different cultures. They were encouraged to take up the post because of their ability to communicate the U.S. diplomatic mission in a more hostile country. “I think we can make a more significant contribution there than somewhere else,” said Dr. Lorinser.
Bob Lorinser is a former family practitioner and hospitalist at Marquette General. For the majority of his professional career he focused on in-patient care and teaching medicine to resident physicians in Marquette, MI. From running a private practice, administrating health insurance programs, or conducting seminars as an Associate Director for the National Family Medicine Board, his successful career in medicine spans nearly three decades. As a reflection of his abilities and commitment to the education of family physicians, Dr. Lorinser was named Educator of the Year by the Michigan Academy of Family Practice in 2003.
Today, Bob and Peggy Lorinser enthusiastically embrace their roles as official United States diplomats. They travel in bullet-proof vehicles. Their golfing excursions are escorted by professional caddies that fetch hooked and sliced golf balls from the woods. But, they’ve never experienced more freedom to explore. In less than four years, they’ve seen the world – Cambodia, Thailand, Mongolia, China, Japan, Russia, Korea, and South Africa are to name a few. They have the prestige of diplomatic immunity, and rub elbows at galas in ballrooms with the likes of former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, John Kerry, and most recently Vice President Joe Biden.
However, Dr. Lorinser says the ballroom glitz and glamor isn’t the motivation behind their decision to join the U.S. State Department. Instead, it was duty, duty to country – a long-time embedded value in him since his early teens.
Before attaining his undergraduate, Bob Lorinser was an Eagle Scout. He began his commitment to medical service even before his medical career started. The Indian Health Service (IHS) Loan Repayment Plan awarded $40,000 toward his student loans in exchange for an initial two-year service commitment to practice full time at an Indian health program site. IHS is a Federal health program for American Indians and Alaskan Natives, bringing physicians into Indian community hospitals. Dr. Lorinser’s medical-residency was completed in Ship Rock, New Mexico.
He provided health care to Navajo families on an economically destitute Indian reservation. There, he would begin a life-long commitment to provide quality health care to disadvantaged and low-income patients. Dr. Bob made it a high priority to provide health care to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it. In practice, the majority of his patients were Medicaid and Medicare recipients. Even amidst a work schedule of 12 – 20 hour overnight shifts, it wasn’t uncommon for Dr. Lorinser to soon thereafter consult patients in his living room. Similar to those who practice medicine during the profession’s origin, the invaluable benefits of a physician’s ‘House-Call’ was something Dr. Lorinser regularly practiced throughout his career.
“I enjoy the role of the doctor,” said Lorinser. “I remember as a child I wanted to be an astronaut (the early space program of the 60’s and 70’s), a garbage collector (what would you do without them), an Ambassador (probably watching TV shows with all of the glitz and grander), or a doctor. My best friend’s dad was an old fashion small town family doctor.” So, he became a doctor. No small feat in itself, let alone quite the accomplishment for a small town boy whose family depended on welfare to make ends meet. Later in life, his career in medicine would lead him to his other childhood dream of living and working in embassies throughout the world. Although he hasn’t ruled out driving a garbage truck or exploring space after his seven year commitment to the State Department expires, it’s likely Bob and Peggy will return to Marquette or retire at their lake house in Gwinn, MI.
“I joined because I believe we can serve our country, see the world, and at the same time advance American values,” said Dr. Lorinser. “What I didn’t know when I started was how I was going to do that.” At the very least, his contribution as a physician in the Foreign Service is an essential supportive role, providing medical care for United States diplomats. Dr. Lorinser’s official title is Regional Medical Director. In Seoul, where they currently live, he oversees a Health Unit that provides basic medical care for U.S. citizens that work in the embassies. His patients include diplomats, ambassadors, CIA and members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Dr. Lorinser also covers the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and the General Consulate in Vladivostok, Russia.
The Foreign Service deals with the world as it is and tries to reshape it into a more secure and prosperous place. In 275 embassies, consulates, and other missions throughout the world, there are nearly 14,000 Foreign Service Officers. Among them, are generalists in five areas – Political, Economic, Consular, Public Diplomacy, and Management. Specialists like Dr. Bob work in a supportive role in many different ways. There are 11,000 Civil Service personnel who work in the United States, most at the State Department building. There are also many others not thought as part of our diplomatic mission. In the cities that host embassies, about 45,000 are locally employed staff. Dr. Lorinser calls the local employees the backbone of the U.S. diplomatic mission.
They work within a budget of about $53 billion, of which includes all foreign aid given by the U.S. government throughout the world. Compared to the military’s $600 billion with two million active military and civilian personnel, the United States Foreign Service has similar goals – security and prosperity, but they achieve them differently. “We need each of us and each of us needs the other,” said Lorinser.
He says his story would not be complete without adding in his family, especially his wife Peggy. “They have made my journey worthwhile.” His wife Peggy is no mere tag-a-long. She’s held full time positions in Pakistan as a Housing Coordinator, and in Seoul, Peggy is currently the Mail-Room Supervisor. During their upcoming 24 month stint in Baghdad she will act as a full-time Consular Assistant, working with American citizens and Foreign Service nationals in the embassy’s Visa section.
Bob and Peggy enjoy life with the State Department, and when asked their favorite part, they both say, “My marriage.” This upcoming May, they will celebrate their 32nd wedding anniversary locked-down in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. They say it’s the happiest they’ve ever been, working, traveling, making friends, and conducting real people-to-people diplomacy in the relationships they have forged together.
Beyond their daily occupational obligations, it’s this accidental ‘people-to-people’ diplomacy where Dr. Bob and Peggy might best leave their footprint. In meetings with colleagues, in his bedside manner, or through the international friendships they build, Dr. Lorinser says he hopes the intangible affects of their work have a positive impact on American foreign relations for generations to come.
“Even if my generation will not directly reap the benefits of my services and those of others in the Foreign Service, I hope my children and grandchildren will.” Dr. Lorinser says it’s the job of a father and mother to make the world a safer and more enjoyable place to live. Emphasizing a mission statement, he reiterates, “The Foreign Service deals with the world as it is and tries to reshape it into a more secure and prosperous place, so the United States can be secure and prosperous,” he said. “This is why Peggy and I journey so far away… We believe in this.”