Three years ago, I entered the Air Force as a general dentist. After completing four challenging years of dental school, I was eager to serve in the Air Force and use my newly developed skills to provide quality care to Airmen. What I quickly came to realize was the misconception that dentistry would be my only responsibility in the Air Force. It became readily apparent that an Air Force career does not travel in a straight line from point A to point B. Rather, a career path in the Air Force is more like a metropolis subway map, complete with unexpected interchanges, detours, twists and turns.
After one year in the Air Force, I found myself at one such unexpected interchange when I was presented the opportunity to work as the 56th Fighter Wing executive officer. For a dentist well-adjusted to the world of scalpels, extractions and fillings, but without a lot of experience in the Air Force, working in high visibility administration for the wing commander fell outside of my comfort zone. The challenge was daunting, to say the least. However, I believed in my ability to learn quickly and work hard and approached the job with a positive attitude. After the fact, I can confidently say that the job afforded me tremendous growth as both an individual and as an Air Force officer. Not only did this opportunity vastly improve my overall understanding of the Air Force, but it reaffirmed my belief that I work for the greatest organization in the world.
Unexpected twists and turns in your career path can be deceiving. Outwardly, they appear to detract from your core mission and your own expectations for your career. However, they are often fantastic opportunities in disguise, and it is best to think positively and remember our core value of service before self.
Initially, I thought it was me doing the Air Force a favor by removing myself from the dental clinic for a year and working a job well outside my career field. However, I quickly realized that my contribution was a small part of something much bigger.
I had the opportunity to work with every agency on base and appreciate the immense effort undertaken daily to accomplish the wing’s mission. I witnessed how great Air Force leaders make calculated decisions on a daily basis, and I saw our wing leaders pour their time and efforts into their passion of leading people and making the Air Force better. Most importantly, I learned that the duty we take on as officers is not defined by our specialty code. In the beginning, I thought I was providing a service. In reality, the wing provided a learning experience I will never forget.
A critical component of our Air Force Total Force Fitness is the idea of resiliency. I would like to believe that we must maintain “career resiliency” to constantly adapt to an ever-evolving military. As stated by boxing legend, Floyd Mayweather Jr., “A true champion can adapt to anything.” The old rhetoric of performing the same job in the same organization for your entire career seems unrealistic, especially in today’s fast-paced world.
Nobody can accurately predict where their career path will take them. Therefore you must be prepared to tackle unforeseen opportunities with positivity and action. I may have received specific training to be an Air Force dentist, but I now understand I’m first and foremost an Air Force officer. Therefore, seek opportunities to learn something new and get outside your comfort zone. You will probably discover more than you realize.