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A Salute to Military Dentistry Part I

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. William R. Bachand (Colonel-Retired)Dr. William R. Bachand
US Army Dental Corps

(June 25, 1979–June 30, 2013)
Stateside—California, Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Oklahoma (twice), Georgia, South Carolina—18 years total
Overseas—Germany (twice), Italy, Korea, Hawaii—16 years total

“Always keep an open mind about the future and challenges it may bring.”

Initially, I signed up because of the Health Professions Scholarship Program. Tuition was expensive at Marquette, a private school, and I was looking for some help. I liked the idea of entering the service anyway to gain additional experience without having to worry about the business side of dentistry. I joined the service for a rather selfish reason—a steady, albeit not exceptionally high income, and the chance to gain experience and additional training. The longer I stayed in, the more I realized I really enjoyed working on, for, and with military people. There was a great sense of camaraderie, and as time wore on, a greater sense of mission. I originally signed up in 1976, just a few years after the Vietnam War ended. I saw a gradual and steady rise in the morale, professional demeanor and overall quality of the people entering the service. I enjoyed being a part of that. I developed a greater sense of patriotism and service as the years wore on, especially after the events of 9/11. It was easy when you were surrounded by dedicated servicemen and women and their families who devoted their lives to the defense of our country.

I’ve had a lot of great memories over 34 years. Memorable assignments include being assigned as a young Captain just out of a GPR to a small dental clinic in Germany a short distance from the old Iron Curtain separating East and West Germany. It was a great assignment being able to practice all the skills I learned in the residency, but I also learned to appreciate the members of the Armored Cavalry squadron whose job was to patrol the border. A similar experience much later in my career had me serving a short distance away from the DMZ in Korea, where I served as a commander for the dental forces in Korea.

I have fond memories of serving as the Division Dental Surgeon for the 101st Airborne Division. There were a lot of great experiences working alongside soldiers in that famed division. We took part in a couple exercises in Honduras, which allowed us to provide dental care to the local populace in remote locations. We were ferried in by helicopter and used equipment that we could carry.

I was the recipient of advanced training, first in a general practice residency and later in a two-year Advanced Education in General Dentistry Program. The training and experience was valuable, but I was most impressed by the dedication and talent of those serving as mentors and teachers. I think it is what pushed me in the direction of going into education.

I retired on June 30, 2013 and was called by the dental school to come in for an interview for a job just opening up. I was hired with a start date of September 1, so I was only officially retired for 90 days. I did some teaching in the military and it was always something I was interested in. The timing and circumstances worked out really well to be hired when I did.

I believe it’s important to always keep an open mind about the future and challenges it may bring. I did not follow the advice often heard in the military about not volunteering for anything. I volunteered for a lot and never regretted it. Get outside your comfort zone and never stop learning.

I initially did not want to enter the Army Dental Corps. I was trying to hold out for the Air Force for a few reasons, mainly because my dad and brother served in the Air Force. Later in my career, there were two assignments I really did not want—one to Korea and one to Fort Gordon, Georgia. They were neither the position nor location I was looking for at that time. Both turned out to be two of my best assignments for a whole host of reasons including command and professional dental experience and the chance to travel to a side of the world I had never seen before. Most importantly, I got the chance to meet my wife here in Georgia, and ultimately make Georgia my adopted home state, even though I still have some strong roots back to Wisconsin.

The moral of this story is to remain flexible and make the best of what comes your way. I am reminded of an old saying—“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” Looking back on my career, I had not planned to any level of detail many of the good and positive things that happened to me. I was truly blessed the way things worked out.

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