CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait (Jan. 26, 2012) -- After 21 years away from the Army and retiring from dentistry in the civilian sector, Daniel P. Alston returned to serve in the Army Reserve, and now commands the 143rd Dental Company (Area Support) Forward as a lieutenant colonel.
In high school, the Agden, Utah native decided he wanted to pursue a career in medicine, but was hesitant about being a medical doctor.
"I wasn't particularly interested in dealing with life-or-death situations," Alston explained. "Since I had spent a lot of time in a dental office, dentistry just made sense."
After high school, he went to the University of California-Davis for two years, only taking the courses necessary to get into a dental school; as a result, he was able to apply to dental school in two years instead of the usual four.
Alston was accepted to dental school when he was 19 years old, which was the same time his name came up for the draft.
"My lottery number was 19, which meant I was going," Alston said. "I was just accepted into dental school, so I enlisted in the early commissioning program."
The program allowed him to finish his degree and join the Army on his own terms as a dentist.
"After I decided to be a dentist it happened so fast it seemed like I became a dentist before I woke up," Alston joked.
In 1966, after graduating dental school, Alston was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
"From there, I spent a year at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and a year in a dental clinic in the demilitarized zone in South Korea," Alston explained. "When I came home, I was done."
In 1972, after completing his time with the Army, Alston went on to own a private practice in Sacramento, Calif., which he sold when he retired in 1995.
"When I retired from dentistry, I moved to Utah, where my wife's family is from," Alston said. "But I got bored. I like to say that I flunked retirement. I was looking for something to do so, I called the local dental unit, the 143rd Dental Company (AS) FWD."
While he was looking for ways to occupy his time, Alston wasn't interested in returning to work full time, which made the Utah Army Reserve dental unit ideal.
"So I said, 'Heck I can do this,'" Alston said. "So in 1997, I came back in."
Then Operation Iraqi Freedom started, and in 2005, Alston was deployed to Tikrit, Iraq, on a 90-day rotation.
"Many doctors and dentists have private practices," said Alston. "So in the Army Reserve, we do 90-day rotations so we can keep our businesses."
When the 143rd Dental Company (AS) FWD was assigned the Kuwait mission, Alston was offered the command.
"At first I wasn't interested, because as a commander, I would be on a 12-month deployment and not a 90-day rotation," said Alston.
After discussing it with his wife, Alston decided that since he was near retirement, taking the command made sense.
"I'm 65 now, so I would be able to finish my time on active-duty status," Alston said. "Reserve retirement changes a lot when you put in more days on active-duty."
Alston had hoped to reach 20 years in service while in Kuwait. However, his current assignment fell short. So when he got word that the 143rd Dental Company (AS) FWD had the 2013 mission as well, he volunteered to stay.
"My wife and I decided it would be the best for us," Alston stated. "It was certainly the best for the unit because they won't have to go through the entire mobilization process to send a replacement."
So now Alston's team will be under his leadership for a total of 20 months, which, according to Staff Sgt. Kevin Morgan, the 143rd Dental Company (AS) FWD noncommissioned officer in charge, will make for an enjoyable deployment.
"Lieutenant Colonel Alston is the easiest going guy I have ever worked for," said Morgan.
Having been a dentist since he was 24, as well as a private business owner, Alston brought a lifetime of knowledge to his command.
"He's a really good guy, and with the experiences in his life, it's easy for us to go to him when we have issues or any kind of problem," said Morgan. "He's like a father figure you can always lean on, which is good to have in this type of atmosphere."
With dedicated, talented leaders like Alston, Third Army is shaping the future by ensuring the best care available is provided to service members.