US dentist slain in Afghanistan had two siblings in Alaska

Lisa DemerAlaska Dispatch News
Photo courtesy TIM GRAMS

The twin brother of one of the 10 medical volunteers killed in Afghanistan last week spoke out Sunday about the nature of his brother's work, saying there was no element of Christian proselytizing.

Dr. Thomas Grams was a dentist based in Colorado who had been on eight or so medical missions to Afghanistan as well as missions to other impoverished countries, including Nepal, India and Myanmar, what used to be known as Burma, said his twin, Tim Grams, 51, a longtime Anchorage resident who recently retired as a helicopter pilot with the Alaska Air National Guard's 210th Rescue Squadron. "He had absolutely no religious agenda. He was strictly there to help the people with their dental care," Tim Grams said.

Tom Grams usually volunteered through Global Dental Relief or the Afghanistan Relief Organization, neither of which appear to have a Christian affiliation, according to information on their websites.

According to a Denver Post story, Tom Grams joined the recent mission to Afghanistan on short notice because he loved helping people who never had received dental care before. It was led by a Christian organization called International Assistance Mission, Global Dental Relief group director Laurie Mathews told the Denver Post.

In media reports from Afghanistan, the Taliban said they slaughtered the 10 workers because they thought the group members were spying and trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

"Absolutely false," Tim Grams said, referring to his brother's role in the mission. "He knew the laws in Afghanistan and the other Muslim countries that you could not proselytize. He was keenly aware of that."

"He went to these countries because he liked to help less privileged people. He liked the mountainous regions. He respected their cultures. He respected their religions" whether they were Buddhists or Muslim or something else, Tim Grams said.

His brother was familiar with the teachings of Islam "and he knew very well it was the death penalty to try to convert a Muslim into any other religion."

He wouldn't have proselytized even if it wasn't strictly forbidden. That wasn't his brother's nature or style, Tim Grams said.

The twins grew up in Minnesota, where their parents still live, and remained close as adults. An older brother lives in Glennallen. Tom Grams had a dental practice in Durango, Colo., for years, and loved the outdoors: telemark skiing, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, his brother said. He started working with charity groups providing dental care in 2001 after treating a torture victim from Afghanistan who had suffered numerous injuries, including badly damaged teeth.

A couple of years ago, he sold his dental practice so he could do more international volunteer work and travel. He was spending four to six months a year overseas. In Afghanistan, Tom Grams gained the trust of tribal leaders, his brother said. At one point, a tribal leader assured him no one would bother him because if they did, they were dead.

The brothers e-mailed frequently when Tom was in the United States but not much when he was away, partly for security reasons. Tom Grams sent his brother a quick e-mail letting him know he was in Afghanistan. Tim Grams had deployed twice to Afghanistan with the Alaska Air National Guard.

They last saw each the summer of 2009 in Alaska when they had an adventure kayaking near Sheridan Glacier in Cordova. They ended up walking the kayaks a good ways.

They were supposed to meet in India this month after Tom Grams' mission in Afghanistan ended. He was supposed to hold a dental clinic in the village of Leh and then they were going trekking in the Zanskar Valley.

"He was very security conscious," Tim Grams said. "He knew the hazards that he was facing there and he went in with open eyes."

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