Face of Defense: Citizen-Soldier Professor Serves in Afghanistan


To the soldiers assigned here with Train, Advise and Assist Command-South, Nathan Wall is an Army major and the deputy logistics and medical operations officer for the unit.

Checking email at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan
Army Maj. Nathan Wall, deputy logistics officer for Train, Advice and Assist Command-South, checks his email in his office at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, May 20, 2018. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield
Checking email at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan
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Army Maj. Nathan Wall, deputy logistics officer for Train, Advice and Assist Command-South, checks his email in his office at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, May 20, 2018. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield

However, on a normal day back in Loma Linda, California, he goes by Dr. Wall, especially to the students of Loma Linda University School of Medicine, where he is a professor.

“I teach molecular genetics and biochemistry to first- and second-year medical students,” Wall said. “I am also the program director for the Ph.D. programs in biochemistry and in cancer biology for the Ph.D. students.”

Wall said he also leads a research group within the university that studies the biochemical and genetic issues that are associated with cancer.

“We focus on the understanding of how cells undergo a process called apoptosis or programmed cell death in hopes that by understanding this process we can design experimental therapeutics that will induce this phenomena in cancer cells,” he explained.

Balancing Civilian/Military Roles

With a very active role in the university, Wall manages to balance life as a professor and a California Army National Guard soldier.

“Major Wall is a caring and thorough officer,” said Army Maj. Erik Underwood, logistics officer for TAAC-South. “He truly embodies what we call a citizen soldier; he is exactly what type of leader and soldier the National Guard looks for.”

According to Wall, he was motivated to reach out to Army recruiters during his post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University when he witnessed the fall of the twin towers on 9/11.

“It was heart wrenching, and I knew then that I wanted to join Army,” Wall said.

Wall stuck to completing his original plans first and did not join the Army immediately.

Following Yale, he moved with his family to Massachusetts to complete his second post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School.

Professor, Guardsman, Husband, Dad

“It wasn’t until I finished my training at Harvard and moved to California to work at Loma Linda University that I was able to commission with the California Army National Guard,” Wall said. “I have been in the Army for 10 years now, and I can say I have never had a bad day in uniform.”

Since joining the California National Guard, Wall has held military occupational specialties in preventive medicine, logistics and operations.

Wall “has transitioned from the medical side to logistics very well and has been able to tie both branches,” said Underwood, a native of Yorba Linda, California. “His desire to learn, as you can see from his educational background, I believe, has made him successful in his transition.”

Wall gives credit to his wife and kids for his successes as a professor and guardsman.

“I would have never joined [the Army] if my wife wouldn’t have joined with me,” Wall said. “Even though I am serving [in Afghanistan] now they are serving back in the states in my absence.”

Though Wall and his family have to deal with separation during deployments and training as part of the military life, separation is an element the family has experience with from Wall’s time in graduate school.

Wall said he does not consider himself as only a professor or a soldier -- he’s both.

“For me one makes the other better,” Wall said. “As a soldier, the skills that I am able to develop affect who I am as a professor, as a father, son and spouse and vice versa.”

Nearing End of Deployment

As his nine-month deployment at TAAC-South nears the end, Wall said he is excited to see his family and his students back at Loma Linda University.

“Whenever I get an opportunity I take some time to put some of my lessons together in preparation for my return to the school,” Wall said. “I am very thankful for the university and their patience and their ability to let me be a soldier.”

Underwood said he feels grateful to have had the opportunity to have Wall as part of his staff during the deployment.

“I think our unit made a great decision in picking Major Wall for this deployment. He has done a lot of good for Afghanistan and TAAC-South,” Underwood said. “The fact that he has a very successful career in his civilian life shows how patriotic he is and how much he wants to serve his country.”

Wall is also currently a student at Stanford University, where he is pursuing a master’s degree in clinical genetics. As a guardsman, he hopes to get a battalion commander assignment.