By Col. Christopher Lauritzen, 52nd Dental Squadron
/ Published September 11, 2013
SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany --
Like December 7, 1941 (the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor) and November 22, 1963 (the assassination of John F. Kennedy) in past generations, most Americans of our generation remember vividly where they were and what they were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001.
I was finishing breakfast in my Midland, Texas home, just about to leave for my private dental practice and my first patient of the day when I saw the news report on television of American Airlines Flight 11 impacting the North Tower of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. Thinking the impact had been an accident, I went to the office as I normally would. Mid-way through the treatment of my first patient that morning, my office manager, informed me that another plane, United Airlines Flight 175, had slammed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. We switched our radio station from relaxing music to the news station, something we had never done before while treating patients.
During that horrific day, both staff and patients listened in silence as the report spoke of the attacks on the Pentagon and the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 and the aftermath of those attacks.
At the time, I was an officer in the Texas Air National Guard and my staff asked what was to become of me, and in turn, what was to become of them. "One way or the other, I know you will be going in the military full-time" my manager said. Then she added, "You've already decided to go, haven't you?" I had. We knew our lives would never be the same again.
I felt I needed to be part of the military effort I knew was coming. Since, the likelihood of my Air National Guard unit being called up was remote; I decided to transfer to the Active Duty Air Force. I cancelled the plans we had made with contractors and the bank for a new office complex, and contacted a broker to sell the practice. I entered the Active Duty Air Force and was assigned to Goodfellow, AFB in Texas which was the closest Air Force base to my practice.
Many thought that I was very patriotic for the "sacrifice" I was making; others figured that I wanted a change in lifestyle. Still, others thought I was just plain insane for giving up a successful and still growing dental practice. In the end, I thought that it was the best professional move I ever made.
Why was joining the USAF a great professional move? There are many reasons. First, there is no question that we belong to the best, strongest, most advanced air force on the planet. In my opinion, the Air Force is the most prestigious and stellar organization in the United States and the AF Dental Corps is the greatest group dental practice in the entire world......bar none.
As an Air Force dentist, I have been able to be involved with an organization and a cause that was much bigger than me. I have been able greatly further my education through the Tuition Assistance program (picking up a graduate certificate in Leadership); and receive full pay and benefits for being a student in an Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency. I had numerous continuing education opportunities afforded to me by the AF that helped me to obtain both clinical and management credentials that I likely never would have obtained in the private sector.
I have been able to participate in a number of dental humanitarian missions in countries such as Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. I have been able to live and work overseas in Asia, Central America, and Europe. Also, I did deploy; and I am a better person for it. In spite of all the professional benefits of being in the AF, no reason is as important as the quality of people I associate with everyday.
Some of the best people I know are members of the Air Force. In all ranks and specialties; our AF has the top people in their fields, in nearly every career field. As an AF, we are very intelligent, caring, and courageous. Across the rank structure I have had men and women who have mentored and inspired me to be the best I can be.
I have been inspired by leadership from the very highest levels. I enjoy my association with younger officers and enlisted members, both inside and outside the Dental Corps, who are living models of professionalism.
As a prior enlisted service member myself, I learned very quickly that the best advice usually came from my NCOs; and now as an O-6 commander that realization is reaffirmed every day.
Finally, the Junior Enlisted Airmen of today are the best of today's young people, the best of American youth is right here on Spangdahlem Air Base, and other military bases around the world. I am proud to be shoulder to shoulder here with all the Airmen and this experience truly taught me the AF's drive for quality and professional excellence.
Because of the superb people and mission of the Air Force, my "sacrifice" has turned into a huge benefit for my family and me. My life changed twelve years ago on September 11th. On that day of days, we were able to see that people can make the difference for both good and bad. They can be instruments of depraved destruction, or purveyors of goodness and justice. Amidst the pain and tragedy of that day, we saw many very good people who were willing to bring caring hearts, strength, talent, and hope to others. I decided to join them, and people like them, by joining the AF, and it has made all the difference to the quality and richness of my life.