By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 24, 2008
As 13-year-old twins growing up in Upper Marlboro, Vince and Vance Moss decided they wanted to ride their bicycles from Washington to West Virginia -- unescorted.
"Their father said to let them go, so I did," recalled their mother, Josephine Moss, who still lives in Upper Marlboro. "As I was driving them to Georgetown, I was thinking, 'What are you doing? What are they trying to do?' But they wanted to go, and they were confident they could make the trip."
That would be the first of many risky endeavors the twins, now 36-year-old physicians, would undertake together. Their most recent adventures, in summer 2005 and late 2006, took them on two personal missions to war-ravaged Afghanistan, where they jeopardized their lives daily to treat hundreds of civilians.
For their humanitarian efforts there, the Moss brothers were honored Jan. 13, along with actors Halle Berry and Danny Glover and business magnate Sheila C. Johnson, as recipients of the 2008 Trumpet Awards, which recognize African American achievement. Past winners include Sidney Poitier, Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks.
The brothers were feted as heroes at a ceremony in Atlanta, where they enjoyed a mini-vacation with family members (they have two sisters and a brother) before heading overseas again Saturday, this time deployed with their U.S. Army Reserve unit to Iraq. They will treat wounded soldiers for at least three months, but in their free time, they hope to take care of civilians.
Vince, a cardiothoracic surgeon, and Vance, a urologist, hatched their first plan to go overseas after hearing fellow soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan talk about the children, women and men who were dying for lack of basic medical care. While deployed stateside in summer 2005, Vince spent weeks planning their mission: They would purchase equipment and supplies with their own money, go to Afghanistan and work on patients. They would be protected by Afghan special forces and volunteers who had agreed to escort and watch over them.
They told their father, Haywood, who didn't like the idea. But they decided to leave their mother in the dark.
"We didn't want her to worry," Vince said.
Their plan came together, and once there, the doctors worked in often difficult situations: amputating limbs injured by land mines, coaxing shrapnel out of tender skin, debriding serious burns and stitching wounds.
Their driver carried a machine gun. Even local drug lords, who protected the poppy fields with armed guards, helped shield the doctors from rebel forces who might have tried to kill two Americans as revenge against the U.S. government. Showers were a luxury, as was recognizable food.
The local children gave them a nickname -- "Doganagy" -- which their translators told them meant "same-face healers."
Josephine Moss said she did not learn that her sons had ventured into al-Qaeda territory until they returned.
"I thought they were crazy, but I wasn't surprised," she said.
Her sons' sense of adventure has always fueled a wanderlust, she said.
As teens, Vince and Vance Moss were named Eagle Scouts for Troop 1038 in Upper Marlboro. They also were members of a Civil Air Patrol unit based at Andrews Air Force Base that often was called out to help search for downed airplanes.
"They were always ready to grab their things and head out all over Maryland to search," Josephine Moss said. "They'd get the call and be ready to go."
At Oxon Hill High School, where they tested into the prestigious Science and Technology Program, they began to think of careers in the medical field. A guidance counselor's admonition that they should consider another path further fueled their desire to succeed, the doctors said.
Beverly Bailer, an assistant principal at Oxon Hill at the time, remembers the Moss brothers as successful students "with a twinkle in their eyes." They were popular with their peers and teachers, she said.
"They had such pleasant personalities," she said. "They mixed well with adults. You could have a conversation with them that would make you forget that you were talking to a child. . . . They were great kids. It was a joy to see them at school each day because they brought a little sunshine. It's even better to know that they are helping others now."
The Mosses attended Penn State for undergraduate studies and then went to Temple University School of Medicine. They practice in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In their off hours, they play golf and work with charity events, such as a recent Ebony Fashion Fair program at the Kennedy Center. They also try to get home regularly for Redskins games.
The brothers own homes in Pennsylvania and New York, but they said they eventually plan to move back to the Washington area.
As she pondered her sons' accomplishment recently, Josephine Moss acknowledged that she was the one who planted the medicine bug when she bought toy medical kits for her boys when they were toddlers. But she couldn't have imagined then the outcome.
"They took the medical toys out and put in these miniature football helmets they had," she said. "I still have those medical kits."