Chief of Ophthalmology at Children’s Colorado retires after 40-year military career

No plans to slow down care for patients
January 6th, 2016

Robert W. Enzenauer, MD, MPH, MBA, MSS, is chief of the Division of Pediatric Ophthalmology at Children’s Hospital Colorado, and he plans to stay put. But Enzenauer is reluctantly stepping down from another post. He is retiring as a brigadier general with the Army, bringing to an end an illustrious 40-year military career.

A retirement ceremony to honor Enzenauer’s military service was held in November at the Colorado National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters in Centennial.

He is not leaving by choice. “I have to retire,” he said. “You can normally serve up to 30 years as sergeant major or colonel, but because there aren’t enough physicians who want to serve, I was given a waiver to serve beyond 30 years.”

Robert W. Enzenauer, chief of the Division of Pediatric Ophthalmology at Children’s Hospital Colorado, is retiring from an impressive 40-year military career, but has no plans to retire from Children’s Colorado.

In 2010, Dr. Enzenauer was promoted to one-star brigadier general, which carries a mandatory retirement age of 62. He was nominated and approved last August to serve as a two-star general, which would have pushed his retirement age to 64. However, he was unable to find a slot in which to serve.

Quite a ride

Looking for challenges and keeping exceptionally busy with academic and military interests seems to be a theme throughout Enzenauer’s career — and life.

His 40 years of service began at the U.S. Military Academy and included stints in Missouri, Hawaii, Kentucky and, eventually, at the old Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, as well Honduras, the Philippines and Panama. Enzenauer completed two residencies, one in pediatrics and another in ophthalmology, and then a fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology. He also earned a master’s in public health in epidemiology as well as a master’s in strategic studies and a master’s of business administration.

Major Enzenauer, chief flight surgeon
Enzenauer as Major Enzenauer, chief flight surgeon, 101st Aviation Group, Fort Campbell, Ky., boarding Huey UH1 helicopter.

“I’m a chronic adult learner. I enjoy those kinds of challenges,” Enzenauer said, explaining his zest for earning college degrees.

He also belongs to dozens of community and professional groups and serves on numerous committees. He’s been awarded 16 major military awards and decorations and dozens of academic honors. He’s published more than 100 articles in various medical journals and makes presentations at medical conferences several times a year.

In his spare time he’s contributed chapters to five books and lead-authored one of his own, “Functional Ophthalmologic Disorders.”

But with all these awards, papers, and service commitments, the thing he’s most passionate about is, simply, being a good doctor and teacher.

“There’s no question the teaching awards I’ve won are the most meaningful to me,” he said. “I’m really passionate about teaching residents and fellows.”

His newly found free time, he said, will be devoted to writing more papers and books on his two main interests: medical history and military history. He plans to finish two book projects he’s been working on. One is called “Combat Ophthalmology,” and the other is “The Eye in Pediatric Systematic Disease.”

“I don’t play golf. The National Guard was my main hobby. Writing papers and books is what I do for fun,” Enzenauer explained.

And of course he’ll continue to practice medicine.

“I like what I do, and I think you can be a pretty good ophthalmologist up to 70 years old, or more, so I think I have about 10 more years. But I don’t have a deadline [for retirement],” said Enzenauer.

Long road

Enzenauer first joined the military as a way to help pay for college. “My father was a house painter and had no money to help with college,” he said. “Vietnam was going great guns at the time, and there was still the draft. My draft number was 25. [West Point] was a way to go to college and a way to not go into the infantry. I’m glad there are people who did that; I just was not ready at the time.”

After West Point he went to the University of Missouri School of Medicine, where he met his wife, Jill Montrey, who was a medical school classmate. They have two adult children, Kate, an artist, and Will, a Spanish interpreter.

“I tell everyone that she married the Army and I married her student loans,” joked Enzenauer.

Fortunately Montrey was able to do her surgical training in Hawaii at Tripler Army Medical Center while Enzenauer was doing his pediatric residency and then practice at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital in Kentucky while he was a flight surgeon at Fort Campbell. Montrey then worked in the private sector for a few years in Colorado, first at Aurora Presbyterian Hospital and then at Rose Medical Center, when Enzenauer served at Fitzsimons. She retired in 1998 but now helps Enzenauer with his writing.

“She’s a surgeon by training, but she writes better than I do. She took my draft and made it read better,” said Enzenauer of his wife of 36 years.

When he began his assignment at Fitzsimons as the chief of Ophthalmology and medical center flight surgeon back in 1990, he planned to stay there indefinitely, and make Colorado his home.

“I was in the old Building 500, and Building 404, which doesn’t exist now, and was never planning to leave Colorado,” he said.

Commitment to service

But when Fitzsimons showed up on the Base Realignment and Closure list in 1994, Enzenauer decided to leave active duty. He pursued a medical academic opportunity in Illinois and then moved to Tennessee before returning to Colorado in 2009 as professor and chief of Pediatric Ophthalmology at Children’s Hospital, now Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Enzenauer getting ready to operate
Enzenauer getting ready to operate at the 28th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Note shoulder holster pistol on OR nurse.

It was hard to leave military service entirely, Enzenauer found, so he joined the National Guard in 1995 in Illinois and then transferred to the Colorado Army National Guard (COARNG) in 1996. With COARNG, he did a tour in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2003 and a four-month stint in Iraq at the end of 2003 as a flight surgeon assigned to take care of pilots and Special Forces. But because of his training, he performed eye surgery as well.

“I was there after all the main combat stuff was over and it was just consolidating operations. But it was pretty interesting to be over there,” he said.

Enzenauer was a long way from home during his two Middle East tours, but he found friendly faces from his past. One of the ophthalmologists assigned in Iraq was one of his former interns at Fitzsimons. Enzenauer ended up performing surgery alongside him. The chief of the hospital in Afghanistan where he served was a surgery resident he met during his time at Fitzsimons.

Working on the Anschutz Medical Campus is like being back home at Fitzsimons, Enzenauer said, adding he has no plans to retire from medicine anytime soon.

Naresh Mandava, MD, chair of the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology, who recruited Enzenauer, is pleased to hear that.

“He’s one of the rare individuals that has really contributed to the academic literature, made significant contributions to research and, on top of that, he’s an exceptional clinician and his leadership skills are known to all of us,” Mandava said. Enzenauer always “walks the walk” and does much more than he would expect others to do, Mandava added.

“He is always doing two or three things at any given time, in real time, and he’s able to do all those things effectively. I’m expecting him to do that for years to come,” Mandava said.

About the author

Joelle Klein is a Denver-area freelance writer who specializes in health and wellness issues.