JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
“Did you accomplish everything you wanted to during your career?”
Col. Alan Dickerson, 59th Dental Group director of clinical periodontics, stood across the exam room and pondered the question, thinking back over his almost 50-year career.
Dickerson donned the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps uniform in August 1972 at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was direct commissioned as an electronic warfare officer when he graduated in 1976.
“I originally joined the Air Force because I wanted to see the world,” Dickerson said. “I went through navigation school in Sacramento, then the powers that be decided they wanted me to be an electronic warfare officer. I then went through electronic warfare training and was assigned to the B-52.”
Dickerson served at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, from July 1978 until he separated from active duty in 1982.
“Because I have my undergraduate degree in zoology, I had all the prerequisites for dental school,” Dickerson said. “So I got out and went to dental school on my GI Bill. I completed four years of dental school and two years of periodontics training.”
While attending dental school, Dickerson continued to serve as an electronic warfare officer in the Air Force Reserve.
“After I graduated from the periodontics program, I did 16 years of private practice,” Dickerson said. “During that time, I was serving in the AF Reserve, but after the first Gulf War, they eliminated my billet. I switched over to the Dental Corps at that time. For the next 14 years, I served in the 926th Fighter Wing out of New Orleans.”
On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and uprooted many lives, including those of Dickerson and his family.
“Hurricane Katrina decided to interrupt my practice,” Dickerson said. “At the same time, the reserve unit closed due to Base Realignment and Closure the following year. I took the next year to change components from reserve to active duty.”
Dickerson returned as an active duty member in October 2006.
“I joined the Air Force again to see the world and what do they do?” Dickerson laughed and responded. “They sent me to Keesler, Miss. about an hour drive from New Orleans. I enjoyed my time at Keesler a lot.”
After serving at Keesler Air Force Base for five years, Dickerson finally had the opportunity to travel.
“In summer of 2012, I got asked if I wanted to go Yokota,” Dickerson said. “I finally got to start doing some traveling then. I spent three years at Yokota, four years at Lakenheath and then here. It’s been a great experience.”
When he finished his seven years overseas, Dickerson returned stateside to serve as the director of clinical periodontics at the 59th Medical Wing. As director, he mentors and trains general dentistry and periodontics residents and staff.
After thinking about his lengthy career, Dickerson explained why he has served as long as he has.
“The people I have met through my career are like family,” Dickerson said. “I came back on active duty because during my reserve time I served two weeks with an active duty unit and practiced periodontics with them. I really enjoyed it and wanted to see if I could do that again.”
Before Dickerson retires, he wants to share some thoughts with those still serving or about to start serving.
“It boils down to showing up, doing your job and being conscientious,” Dickerson said. “Show up with a good attitude, be willing to be a team player and things will just work out, eventually.”
When Dickerson retires in February 2022, he plans to spend time with family, relax and enjoy his time.
“We are moving closer to my wife’s family,” Dickerson said. “I might see if there are any practices I can work in part-time, but other than that I like going for hikes in the mountains. It’s also a bike-friendly area, and I enjoy cycling so it’ll be great to do that.”
After thinking about the question, “Did you accomplish everything you wanted to during your career?” Dickerson responded, “I think so. The one thing I didn’t do was hold command like a lot of active duty. I have, however, spent a lot of time in education. I taught part-time while I was in private practice. When I was at Keesler, I taught the residents. Being able to pass on some of the things I’ve learned over the years has been very rewarding. I don’t have any regrets.”