By Melinda Munson
“I hate deserts,” said Brent Kunzler, Dahl Memorial Clinic’s (DMC) new medical director.
The physician’s assistant spent a large portion of his career, including eight years in Iraq, among arid landscapes.
He entered the U.S. Army Special Forces as a medic in 1969.
“I looked at the most difficult course special forces had, and that was medicine,” Kunzler said, explaining his choice to enter the healing arts.
He retired from the military in 1994, and continued to travel the world as a health professional with a master’s of science in physician assistant studies and a doctorate in global health.
Prior to Skagway, Kunzler worked in the Virgin Islands and Dubai. Home is (kind of) St. George, Utah, where Kunzler’s belongings are in storage. His sailboat sits in San Diego. The father of three, Kunzler also has three grandchildren.
The director entered a two-year contract at DMC which has been struggling with staff turnover, patient complaints and talk of a bid by SEARHC to take over operations.
Kunzler, who has worked under gunfire, is confident he can handle the challenges. He also spent a year in Antarctica at -146 temperatures, so he doesn’t think Skagway’s cold and isolating winters will be a problem.
The former green beret has worked at hospitals large and small, some of them dug into hillsides. He described DMC as “very well equipped.” Kunzler is waiting for his Alaska medical license in order to start treating patients, and for now, is confined to administrative duties. He said how much time he divides between patient care and administrative work will depend on the clinic’s level of staffing.
Kunzler hopes to put a special focus on Skagway’s older population by “keeping them healthy” with welfare checks and community programs.
The medical director has a habit of using the “R” word, not to describe individuals with intellectual impairment, but to categorize ridiculous situations. He said the word multiple times throughout the interview.
A graduate of Stanford University, Kunzler said he reads around 100 books per year, his favorite genres being military and mystery. Also interested in history, he mentioned he felt an affinity for Orrin Porter Rockwell, nicknamed the “Destroying Angel of Mormondom.”
Rockwell, bodyguard to prophets in the early Mormon church, is believed to have killed dozens of men, sometimes in retaliation for violent crimes. Kunzler described Rockwell as having “a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other.”
In another exchange, Kunzler commented on the reporter’s experience of having a child come out as gay.
‘We’re all a little bit gay when we need to be,” he joked.
So far, Kunzler is liking non-desert Skagway.
“I love the mountains. It’s like a little Switzerland,” he said.