My Dad’s Ambitions

Steady hours and ample free time weren’t all the Army offered to a small town dentist in the 1960s. My father didn’t just want to be a dentist, it appears. As an Army officer, he could advance in rank and eventually command other dentists. I believe this appealed to him. In addition, there were opportunities for additional training and even degrees.

My father reentered the Army in 1964 as a general dentist holding only a DDS degree and the rank of Captain (O-3). By the time he retired, he had added a Masters degree in Hospital Administration, earned a board certification in removable prosthodontics, and advanced to the rank of full Colonel (O-6). Along the way, he’d also held executive positions including commander of a large dental activity (DENTAC) with multiple clinics and more than 100 dentists.

By understanding his career, I came to a better understanding of why we moved so much during those years. Ultimately the moves allowed him to attend courses and get tickets punched to move his military career forward. While some in the military actually serve large portions of their career at a single post or base, many progress through different jobs on a three-year rotation schedule. My father didn’t serve in one role for a full three years until I was in high school. Here’s my basic understanding of all the moves:

My School:                           Dad Was Doing:
#1 – 1st Grade (3 mos)   Dad still in Private practice in New Mexico.
#2 – 1st & 2nd Grades    First assignment back in the Army. Ft Irwin, CA
#3 – 3rd Grade                   Advanced course*, Ft. Sam Houston, TX
#4 – 3rd & 4th Grades   His tour in Vietnam (We lived in Oklahoma.)
#5-5th & 6th Grades      Normal assignment, I think he was “XO” or second in command at this small clinic. Ft. Ben Harrison, IN.
#6 – 7th Grade                   Masters in Hospital Admin classes, Ft Sam Houston, TX
#7 – 8th Grade                   Masters in Hospital Administration internship, Ft. Bliss, TX
#8 – Grades 9-12              Full 3-year assignment in a management role at the US Army Institute of Dental Research (USAIDR) Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington DC

My father’s initial boss in the USAIDR job went on to become the commanding general of the Dental Corps in his next assignment. One of his early decisions was that all dentists should be doing dentistry rather than serving in non-command management roles as my father had been doing when they worked together. Thus my father was ousted from the management “specialty” he had developed within the Dental Corp and sent back to practicing dentistry. Since an officer of his seniority was expected to have a specialty, his next assignment sent him back to training, this time in prosthodontics. Fortunately for my brother (who hadn’t finished school), that assignment led to another three years in Washington DC. As a result, my brother got six straight years in the same school system.

* The Advanced Course was a 9 month course required for all military officers at his level of seniority.