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A Salute to Military Dentistry Part III

Profiles of GDA member dentists who served in the US Armed Forces
In celebration of Veterans’ Day, we asked many GDA members with military service to share a little about their experience. Their reasons for entering the U.S. Armed Forces are many—some found inspiration because family members served during previous wars. Some worked to hone their skills and learn more about their chosen profession before choosing their path. Others found relief from dental school debt and felt called to keep men and women in the military healthy. We thank all of you who have served our country in uniform and are proud to share some of your stories.

dr shirley fisherDR. SHIRLEY H. FISHER
U.S. Army (June 1977–May 1987)
U.S. Air Force (July 1991–August 1995)
Panama Canal Zone (US ARMY)
Destin, FL (USAF)

“It was an honor to serve and defend our country in two branches of the military during times of tension. Please take the time to thank our active duty and veteran service-members for their service to our country.”

I enlisted in the U.S. Army because they had a program that would help me pay for college. After dental school, I was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force as a dentist in order to enter the Advanced Education in General Dentistry Residency Program.

While serving in the U.S. Army, I was stationed in the Panama Canal Zone during the time that the U.S. had trouble with Panama’s General Torrijos and Mr. Manuel Noriega regarding the USA agreement to cede control of the Panama Canal Zone over to Panama by 1999. I worked in the dental clinic as a dental laboratory technician. While serving in the U.S. Air Force, our family was stationed near Destin, Florida at Hurlburt Field Air Base, where I worked as a dentist.

It was important to me to be a vital part of keeping our military members healthy and in battle-ready condition as a dentist to the elite of the military. As a member during Desert Storm, I realized the importance of everyone pulling together. Each member doing their job made a big difference. We were all sacrificing for the good of others.
Along with dentistry, being in the military taught me to shoot a 38-caliber and a M-16 rifle with proficiency. I was also able to disassemble and reassemble a M-16 rifle under one minute.

There is a big difference between private practice and military dentistry. As a dentist in the military, you follow the goals and rules set forth by your commanders. In private practice, you can fully experience leadership and adjust your practice goals and priorities to meet your own expectations.

If you’re considering a career in dentistry, make sure to do your research and know what is involved in all aspects of private practice. Know your vision and priorities, surround yourself with experts, treat patients with empathy, join your local dental association, and be willing to do excellent dentistry.

dr barton mcgheeDR. BARTON L. McGHEE, JR
U.S. Air Force

(November 1971–June 1976), Active Duty; 1977–1999 USAF Reserves
RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall 1971–75, Eaker AFB 1975–76 Active Duty, MacDill AFR, Eglin AFB, Eaker AFB, and Dobbins ARB.

“The U.S. military offers a great way to expand your knowledge and experience; don’t discount it out of hand. It can be a very rewarding experience.”

As a college student of the 1960s at a land grant college, I was required to enroll in ROTC. My father had served in the Army Air Corps as a dental officer in WWII, so I gravitated to the AF ROTC. As the Vietnam war escalated, I was glad to have chosen the Air Force. I graduated as a second lieutenant with a line commission from the AFROTC program at the University of Memphis. I elected to pursue dentistry and was allowed a deferment until graduation from the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry in 1971. I then entered active duty and was assigned as a dental officer at USAF Hospital Lakenheath, United Kingdom.

I felt that everyone has an obligation to give back something to this country, and as a product of the 1960s, was influenced by John F. Kennedy, so military service was a good choice. I was also obviously influenced by the military training I received in the ROTC program.

I had several memorable moments in my career. First, basic training at Little Rock AFB was not much fun, but I learned a lot about myself. Second, I had been pretty isolated from antiwar sentiment until I went to England, and there I came to understand a lot of young students didn’t like us much. My favorite experience was a four-year tour to England, when I lived in a small English village.

I was discharged from active duty in 1976 and entered my residency of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Emory. At Emory I was selected to become the designated Veterans Administration resident as one resident was paid by the VA. There, I got to see the workings of the VA as a provider. When I entered private practice, I was grateful for all the experience the military had afforded me from patient exposure to management experience. I remained a USAF reservist while a resident and after training. The Reserves allowed me to continue a military career while in private practice. I ultimately became commander of the 94th Aeromedical Staging Squadron at Dobbins AFB. I had the great fortune to work with some very talented officers and enlisted NCOs. I retired in 1999 with the grade of Colonel with 28 years’ of service.

It was my pleasure and honor to swear in my son Robert K. McGhee to the USAF. Rob is the third generation of dentists in our family to join the USAF Dental Corps. Rob still serves as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon for the USAFR.

It has been a honor and privilege to be a part of the United States military.

dr. robert mcgheeCOLONEL ROBERT K. McGHEE
Oral and Maxillofocial Surgery U.S. Air Force

(Active duty 1999–2010; active reserve 2010–present)
Active duty: Washington DC, Boling AFB, South Carolina, Shaw AFB, San Antonio, TX Lackland AFB, Maryland, Andrews AFB, Balad Air Base, Iraq
Reserve: Dobbins ARB, San Antonio, TX. Lackland AFB

“The teamwork that the military encourages is second to none.”

I have a long family history of military dentists. My father served for 30 years in the Air Force, as a general dentist and oral surgeon. My grandfather was a dentist in the Army Air Corps. I feel a strong commitment to the ideals that the military teaches, supports, and defends. Additionally,the teamwork that the military encourages is second to none. It really gives you a sense of accomplishment when you know you are a part of something much bigger than yourself.

My time spent in Iraq as part of the head and neck trauma team was one of the most rewarding times I have ever had professionally. We did incredible work under very difficult conditions, and really made a huge difference in people’s lives around the world. My promotion to Colonel was also a highlight. The ceremony was attended by my wife and children, and it was special that they could attend—it reminded me of what is really important.

Now that I’m in the reserve, I have been fortunate that my company, Atlanta Oral and Facial Surgery, has been very supportive of my military service. They have allowed me to blend a full time private practice with a reserve military commitment.

I encourage anyone joining the military to take advantage of the educational opportunities they offer; the military is a huge supporter of education. In many cases, your branch of service will pay for school and you can avoid the large student debt that many young graduates have.

These profiles were first published in the November/December 2017 issue of Action. We will publish further installments online in the coming weeks. 
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