Local-born doctor: Military structures young lives
A former Shreveporter who left a troubled family here to serve as a combat medic in Iraq, and who later served as a new doctor combating Ebola in west Africa, will speak in his home town later this week and sign copies of his new book.
"My mom was in prison most of my life, and my sister did time," says Antonio Webb, 32, who now is in his residency as an orthopedic surgeon in San Antonio, Texas. He grew up in the Allendale, Queensborough and Meadows neighborhood off Jewella Avenue.
"My dad did the best he could as a single parent to keep us isolated from what was going on. I was lucky in that I left Shreveport at an early age, 17, after I graduated from high school. If I'd have stayed in Shreveport there would have been a different outcome."
Webb's new book, "Overcoming the Odds," also shares stories of how a beloved younger brother served juvenile life for armed robbery, discovering a talent for singing and songwriting in prison only to die at age 22 from leukemia. Later, his mother and a younger sister, who also served jail time, were diagnosed with schizophrenia.
His book is in three parts, showcasing his childhood, his years in the military and service in Iraq and his medical years, which have included work in Liberia both before and during the recent Ebola outbreak.
His salvation came in January 2001 when at age 17 he convinced his father to sign papers allowing him to join the Air Force upon graduation from Southwood High School. He also had attended the Fair Park Medical Careers Magnet Program.
Ebony Hall is part of ROTC at Woodlawn High School. (Photo: Henrietta Wildsmith/The Times)
Even though his father was away much of the time, serving in the Army and then the Air Force, donning the nation's uniform was almost a family tradition. A grandfather also served in the Air Force and an older brother is a captain in the Army.
"Joining the military was one of the best decisions I made in my life," he says in his book.
Going into the military offers youngsters a chance to join the biggest family there is, says retired Army Lt. Col. Byron Lafield, Junior ROTC instructor at Woodlawn Leadership Academy in Shreveport.
"It becomes their family," he said this week, shortly before inspecting a formation of hundreds of young cadets in the school gym. "You bond like no other place. You are put under pressure as a team and you become part of the team. ...You become family."
Much like Webb, two of his prized senior cadets plan to enter the military on graduation. Ebony Hall and Ar'moniee Langston, both of whom have signed up to join the Louisiana Army National Guard.
The military "develops you as a person and allows you to notice your faults and strengthen them so you can better help you fellow man," said Langston, 17. Hall, 18, said the military activity she's undertaken "helps you become prepared for different suituations, you learn how to go into detail and think it through before you take action."
Dr. Antonio Webb, with students at the Spiritan Catholic Academy in Monrovia, Liberia, in 2014. (Photo: Courtesy photo)
ROTC mom Katherine Monroe says her 18-year-old son LaTravis "has his mind focused on the military. He loves it. It's helped him out a lot. When he gets out of high school, that's where he's going to go."
LaTravis Monroe agreed. "It teaches you discipline and what not to do, and all the things you can do."
The eight years Webb served, he said, were enough. He's been approached by recruiters now that he's a doctor, "but that time is past. I don't think I could do another deployment. I'm completely out. I did my time."
But community service, even returning overseas to help people in disadvantaged areas that don't have access to all the high-tech life-saving gear common to U.S. hospitals, appeals to him.
"I still want to do a lot of international work, at least once or twice a year, in Africa as well as places I've never been," he said. Recently, he was approached by a woman in South America who bought his book — "I didn't even known Amazon shipped there" — and told him about the need for doctors and basic medical service in Guyana.
"She was inspired by my book and that they really need medical assistance there," he said.
Webb credits sticking with his education and making smart choices for his escape from the mean streets of Shreveport. After eight years in uniform and seeing the difference medical care can make in the lives of people, he saw his path. Armed with his formal and military education and life experiences, he was accepted by Georgetown University's medical program and later studied at Harvard.
In fact, comments from interviewers at these institutions was part of what led Webb to write his book, a conversational, almost chatty work that includes many bullet-style talking points offering fatherly advice after each chapter.
"Through the interview process, people were impressed with my life story," he said. "Plus, I wanted to give some encouragement to kids, especially in places like the inner cities, to let them know you can be successful as long as you work hard."
He gets back to Shreveport every few months to visit family and friends and to speak to the kids he sees facing the same odds he overcame.
"Friday, I'll be at the Job Corps as commencement/graduation speaker," he said. "Then I'll be at Walnut Hill. Both those schools bought a large quantity of books for their students. Then I'll be at (University Health) for an event for about 75 people, talking about my path to medicine and my time growing up in Shreveport."
Like other doctors he knows, he plans to be licensed both in Texas and Louisiana. Still single, he isn't ruling out returning to Shreveport when he finishes his residency just over three years from now.
"A lot of people ask me that all the time," he said. "I have a lot of friends and family still there, so I'm considering it. But I'm focused on getting through my residency, then I'll see where God leads me."
That last mention tops his list of advice for young readers.
"No. 1, put God first in whatever you do," he advises. "Then, never give up on your dreams and goals. A lot of people, on a day-to-day basis, will be faced with a lot of different obstacles in life, a lot of challenges. What's most important when you're faced with these challenges is how you respond to them. For younger kids, my advice basically is to stay out of trouble. I've seen a lot of people get into a lot of trouble and it affects them throughout their career."
He also cautions them to stick with education despite the appeal of dropping out and doing street things that can mean fast easy money but lead to trouble. And that also means picking your friends wisely.
"When your friends get in trouble, you get in trouble too," he said. "When the people you hang around with get into trouble it sets you up for failure."
Dr. Antonio Webb, former Shreveporter, Iraq War combat medic and author, will take part in several events Friday. The public can observe, hear him speak at and get him to sign copies of his book "Overcoming the Odds." Here's his schedule:
9:30 a.m., commencement speaker for Job Corps graduation, 2815 Lillian St., Shreveport.
Noon, Linwood Middle School, 401 West 70th St., Shreveport.
1:30 to 3:00pm Walnut Hill Middle School, 9360 Woolworth Road, Shreveport.
3:45 p.m., Black History Month event at University Health/LSU School of Medicine 3rd Floor Lecture Hall, 1501 Kings Highway, Shreveport.
Buy his book
Overcoming the Odds is available through major retail outlets including Barnes and Noble, Amazon and through antoniowebbmd.com or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. The ISBN book number is 978-0-9909833-0-9. Cost is $18.99.