When he was a boy in the 1960s, Brad Wenstrup led imaginary platoons on surprise attacks through the leafy backyards of his Hyde Park neighborhood. His favorite TV show starred Vic Morrow as Sgt. Chip Saunders (pictured right with Rick Jason), whose weekly show "Combat!" ran longer (1962-67) than WWII in Europe.

By 1969, he had a new favorite to watch with his dad. On "Medical Center," gray haired mentor Dr. Paul Lochner (James Daly) and young surgeon Dr. Joe Gannon (Chad Everett), photo right, fought another kind of battle, to stitch up the "generation gap" at the end of each episode in a Los Angeles teaching hospital.


So maybe it's no surprise that Wenstrup grew up to become a combat surgeon. Sgt. Saunders, meet Dr. Gannon. As the twig is bent by TV heroes, so grows the tree. (Those of us who wasted hours on "Green Acres" and "F-Troop" can only shake our heads "” and wonder what happens to kids raised on "Seinfeld," "Lost" and "Arrested Development.")

Wenstrup was 39, with a successful Cincinnati medical practice, when he decided to do something about the increasing terrorist attacks on America. He dialed 1-800-Army, just like it says in the ads. And when he reported for duty in the U.S. Army Reserves, one of the first officers he saluted was his backyard "army" buddy, Karl Kadon (now with the U.S. Attorney's office in Cincinnati, he served in Iraq and recently returned from Afghanistan).

"When I told my mother about seeing Karl, she was not surprised," Wenstrup recalls. "She said, "¢That's all you boys did together, with your uniforms and walkie-talkies, climbing trees and playing army."

His parents were also less surprised than most of us when Wenstrup scored one of the nation's biggest political upsets in March, defeating incumbent Rep. Jean Schmidt in the Republican primary.

Unless Democrats find a magic candidate before November, Wenstrup is on his way to Congress to represent an overwhelmingly Republican Second District.

Stunned political "experts" were left scratching their heads, asking, "Who is this guy?"

The answer: He's a doctor, businessman, veteran of Iraq, Lt. Col. in the Army Reserves and conservative Republican who has a Bronze Star for bravery.

He's the combat surgeon and officer who helped turn Abu Ghraib Prison from a black-eye into a successful hospital that treated detainees, terrorists, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens. In Iraq, he operated on the infamous "Chemical Ali," and was asked to help plan treatment for prisoner Saddam Hussein. "I had to wonder, "¢How in the world is this podiatrist from Cincinnati weighing in on Saddam's hunger strike?'" Wenstrup says. He's also the newlywed husband of Monica (Klein) Wenstrup. They were married May 12 in a military wedding with dress blues and a saber arch. He's a summer softball player who grew up attending St. Mary School and St. Xavier High School.

He is pro-life, pro-guns and anti-Obama. Policy-wise, he's like Schmidt and former Second District Republican congressman Rob Portman, who is now a senator.

Was it the Kiss?

But there are other differences.

Even before they could pick the crow feathers from their teeth, the pundits started spinning theories: Schmidt took it for granted, wouldn't debate and didn't really campaign; Wenstrup had the Tea Party; Schmidt never warmed up to voters and couldn't even get an endorsement from the Clermont County Republican Party, which was her backyard.

Some blamed a Texas group that targeted House incumbents like Schmidt. Or maybe it was the robo-calls from "Earl Pitts" (former WLW comic Gary Burbank), telling voters to "Wake up, Amurikah!" "” and vote for Wenstrup.

Or was it the kiss? Wenstrup's most effective ad was a mock newscast on the State of the Union speech by President Obama, describing how Schmidt camped out for a coveted spot on the rope line so she could get Obama's autograph and give him a smooch.

In political Battleship, it was a direct hit.

Voters are sick of politicians who promise to represent us in Washington, then wind up representing the worst of Washington to us. Watching Rep. Schmidt ask Obama for an autograph made conservative Southwest Ohio cringe. And it reinforced Wenstrup's promise to not become one of "them."

Knows Who He Is

Among those who called to congratulate him were friends who served with him in Iraq. "They said "¢Don't let Washington change you,'" he says. "I thought that was funny. As much as I worried about going to Iraq, it changed me for the better. But everyone worries that Washington will change you for the worse."

That's not likely for Wenstrup. He knows who he is and where he comes from.

In his first campaign, he gave Mayor Mark Mallory a scare in 2009. (I helped him with some free advice that was no doubt worth the price.) Practically nobody gave him a chance against Schmidt, either, but Wenstrup was all in. "I'm not going to sit back and wish I had done this. I was very conscious of what I would do with the time I have left in my life. You can't sit around waiting for someone to tell you it's your turn in life."

He has what too many in Washington lack: real experience and perspective.

When he came home from the war and watched regulations passed by politicians who don't have a clue about business, medicine, veterans and the military, he decided it was time to volunteer again. "I've run a business. I've gone to war. I spent 14 years in the military," he says. The same government that thinks it can run health care has "only about seven or eight doctors in the House."

"If you have watched someone die for his country, you want it to be for a reason. You want the freedom we have, that they fought for, to be maintained. When you see that slipping away"¢ I've given maybe a hundred talks about these heroes and my message is like the one from Saving Private Ryan "” "¢Earn this.'"

The boy who played Sgt. Saunders and dreamed of being Dr. Gannon is now called "Lt. Col." or "Doctor Wenstrup." After November, he will probably be called Congressman.

Cincinnati couldn't write a better script. -