Dr. Jabbar Fazeli talks in his Portland office in June 2016 about his difficult decision to inform the FBI in 2014 that his brother, Adnan, had become radicalized in his islamic faith. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Dr. Jabbar Fazeli has wanted to enlist in the U.S. armed forces since he was granted asylum in the U.S. more than 20 years ago. Now 55, he’s finally going to serve.

On Tuesday, the Iran native and longtime Maine geriatrician will be sworn into the Air National Guard to become a flight surgeon.

The swearing-in will mark the culmination of a number of attempts to enlist since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which inspired him to serve. And Fazeli said enlisting will help him pay back what he sees as a debt to the U.S. after his brother died in 2015 while fighting for the Islamic State on the Lebanon border.

“He came in because of my presence in this country,” Fazeli said. “I felt like he broke trust, and I’m holding his debt that he left behind.”

Fazeli is a fellowship-trained and board-certified geriatrician with about two decades of experience. He founded his Biddeford-based practice Maine Geriatrics; he is the chief medical officer at Continuum Health Services, a group of long-term senior care facilities; and he serves as vice president of the Maine Medical Directors Association.

Fazeli said he has always felt a responsibility to serve in the armed forces, but that duty was waylaid by the long process to become a U.S. citizen.

He grew up in the Iranian province of Khuzestan, on the Iraq border, and was raised as a Shiite Muslim. He completed medical school in Hungary, then carried out his residency and fellowship training in the U.S.

When that ended in 2000, he said, he “didn’t have any home or country to go back to.” He applied for and was granted asylum and began his career.  

“That life-changing event benefited me and my family and I’ve always felt that’s a debt that needs to be paid in my generation,” Fazeli said. “I’d like to think I earned everything I have in my life and career, but it’s hard to earn the gift of a home, so enlisting is my way of earning my keep.”

Fazeli first applied to enlist following the attacks of Sept. 11, nearly 21 years ago. He tried again in 2003 when U.S. forces invaded Iraq, but he wasn’t allowed to join because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen.

He was finally granted U.S. citizenship in 2009, and he was further compelled to enlist after his brother, Adnan Fazeli, died fighting for the Islamic State on the Lebanon border in January 2015.

Fazeli informed the FBI of his brother’s radicalization after he had moved to Maine in 2009.

Fazeli practiced medicine in Maine for a number of years until the deployment of National Guard members to local hospitals and nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic reminded him he should try to enlist again.

It took two years for him to receive medical credential clearance and an age waiver.

He applied to serve until the maximum age of 65 and suspects he’ll be based in Bangor, though he isn’t certain yet. As a flight surgeon, he’ll conduct examinations and provide medical care for air and missile crews. Flight surgeons need to understand how the physical demands of high altitude and extreme pressure flights affect the human body.

Joining the Air National Guard will also help Fazeli fulfill a childhood dream.

“I grew up watching planes because there was always war in the region and as a kid, you’re fascinated by the equipment. I thought I’d be a pilot but I settled for being a doctor,” he said. “Now, I get to care for the people I admire and their families.”

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Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...