Dr. Vance Moss is not only an urologist, but is an Eagle Scout, a member of the first African-American fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, and, perhaps most proudly, a veteran of the U.S. Army. (Staten Island Advance/Marjorie Hack)
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - ALL SHORES - Dr. Vance J. Moss, since August 1, an urologist at Staten Island University Hospital in Ocean Breeze, is all about breaking barriers and stereotypes.
He's not alone. So is his identical twin brother, Dr. Vince Moss, a cardiothoracic surgeon in New Jersey.
They're not only physicians. They're Eagle Scouts, members of the first African-American fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, and, perhaps most proudly, veterans of the U.S. Army, who have each served three war-time tours in support of troops in the Middle East – in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I rarely get people who ask what it was like over there," said Vance, who initially signed on during peace time. "When we're there, we can't wait to get home to talk about it, and you get home and you don't want to talk about it. There are bad memories. You just focus on the mission. There is nothing glorious about being in war."
From an early age, when so many boys envision making their way to the stars by playing professional sports, the Moss brothers were certain they wanted "the road not taken," as poet Robert Frost once phrased it.
"We had intellectual goals," said Staten Island's Dr. Moss.
They also developed an affinity, early on, for service to their community in Upper Marlboro, Md., and to the state.
"We opened our dad's Boy Scout stuff," one day, recalls Dr. Moss. What they came across that day, at the age of 12, was a collection of Eagle Scout awards and badges.
The awards dazzled the brothers, and at the age of 14, Vince and Vance became the first African-Americans – and the youngest Eagle Scouts – in their troop.
But still, they wondered, "How can we ultimately give back?" recalled Vance.
It didn't take long for them to come up with an answer: Become physicians.
Vance recalls that there was "something about that stethoscope" around his pediatrician's neck, and even though he has miserable memories of getting the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, when his doctor let him use the stethoscope to listen to his brother's beating heart, "I was fascinated."
Dr. Moss' parents also helped fuel their sons' curiosity by buying them chemistry sets. "We were fascinated by this and the human body," said Vance. "We took BB guns into the woods and shot squirrels and dissected them. We worked together very well."
Their father – first, a police officer in Washington, D.C., then a corrections officer – had earlier served in the U.S. Army, and his sons found themselves drawn to the uniform and the chain of command it represented.
They enlisted, both as privates first class, in June 1989, after high school.
For them, "there is no other branch" of the service, said Vance. "We appreciated the tradition," he said and they were committed to being involved with the first of America's military divisions. The Navy, Air Force and Marines came later, in that order, he said.
After their initial stint in the service, the Vances joined the Army's Ready Reserves. These days, Vance holds the rank of a lieutenant colonel.
Vance went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in science from Pennsylvania State University in 1994, before enrolling in the U.S. Army Advanced Officers School in Texas. He earned his medical degree four years later in 1998 from Temple School of Medicine in Philadelphia, and completed an internship in surgery and a residency in general urology and genitourinary surgery, both at New York Medical College, Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y.
He chose the specialty because it offered a mix of medicine and surgery. "I knew innovation was going to drive it," he said.
Vance and his brother were called back into action – first as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in Fort Bliss, Tex. in 2005-2006. In 2007, they were part of a special medical unit deployed to Afghanistan where they served in the Anbar Province, working out of front-line operating rooms and facilities, treating injured soldiers and others unable to make it to Kabul.
"It's not like 'M.A.S.H.,' " said Vance. "That's a fortified situation. We learned (from Vietnam) that a forward surgical unit reduces mortality by 80 percent."
Despite their proximity to the action, however, the first American they treated could not be saved. "It was the first time we operated together," Vance said, referring to his brother.
The wounded serviceman "was a Marine," said Vance. "Everyone is human and some of the things you see will change your life forever. I wear this bracelet in honor of him."
Hanging in Dr. Vance Moss' office is a photo of him, with his twin, Dr. Vince Moss, and former President George Bush. (Staten Island Advance/Marjorie Hack)
The two brothers have established yet another mission for themselves: To help young African-Americans be all that they can be. They present big shoes to fill.
They were featured in a television commercial promoting enlistment in the U.S. Army in 2009. They were invited to concerts at the White House by former President George W. Bush. Vance said, to this day, he can't remember what the performance was. They are referenced by former first lady Laura Bush in her book, "Speaking from the Heart."
Vance has been named a Person of the Week and Person of the Year by ABC World News; he was awarded an Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2007, and several awards from the universities he attended.
But he says that of all his accomplishments, he is proudest of being able to say he's a veteran.
"It's worth more than a BMW or anything. You get compensation in pride, soul and serving your country.
Currently a resident of Manhattan's Upper East Side, Vance said he sacrificed and paid a price – "16 years of my life" – going to school. "I'm way far behind colleagues in high school. Society should be aware that it's not easy."
But he likes where he is. He and his brother, who lives and practices medicine in New Jersey, still get together as often as they can in a shopping center parking lot after work to fly remote-controlled airplanes together. And Staten Island is living up to the description he was given before accepting his position.
"It's very family-focused. Everybody knows everybody. It's actually intimidating," said Vance.
But he said people have been very receptive and he's even thinking about buying a house in Great Kills. By the way, ladies, at 40, he's still single, childless – and very engaging.
Dr. Moss practices at 242 Mason Ave., Ocean Breeze. His office telephone number is 718-226-6461
Leading by example
The Moss brothers – Vince and Vance – are committed to serving as role models for as many African-American boys and young men as they can. To that end, they conducted a small study to confirm what they have observed over time in what Vance Moss describes as "their demograph."
They asked 100 African-American boys, between the ages of 10 and 12 in Maryland, what they wanted to do when they grew up and 87 percent responded that they were looking to play a professional sport of some sort; among the 100 non-African-American boys they approached, just 40 percent responded similarly.
"African-American men think they can only gain respect with basketball or football in this country," said Vance. "You have to forget about blaming others for where you are and take on realistic goals. We want to give them a model to frame their thought process. In my demograph, there is very little to fall back on, to find role models."
To that end, the Vance twins have created a website, vinceandvancemoss.com
, where visitors can learn more about them and find information about a scholarship the brothers fund that helps African-Americans attend college.