Through Airmen's Eyes: Full Circle
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Twenty years ago, Okinawa was a much different place than it is today. The Kadena Clinic didn't exist and the expressway was just a concept. The 18th Medical Group was located where the 18th Security Forces Squadron building stands today and Maj. (Dr.) William Wright was a student at Kadena High School.
Wright, now the 18th Dental Squadron clinical flight commander and married father of five, reflects on how he got to perform his dream job today.
As an 11th grader at KHS, Wright was certain about two things. One, he wanted to work in the medical field. Two, he didn't like math. As a result, he researched careers in the medical field to see which one would suit him best.
"To be honest, what made me decide to be a dentist is what medical field needed the least amount of math," Wright joked. "As I looked, optometry needed an ungodly amount of math and I was like 'nope.'"
While Wright said he was good at math, but not a fan, he would not let it stop him from making his way into the medical field.
"Dental only required physics and college algebra and I was like 'I'm good with that'," said Wright. "So I decided that in the 11th grade. I knew the only way to be able to accomplish that was to be accepted into the military and then hopefully find something to carry my dream over."
After graduating high school 18 years ago, and at the age of 19, Wright enlisted into the United States Air Force as a dental technician and still pursued his dream of becoming a dentist. To accomplish that he needed to further his education, so he began to take night classes.
Days would start early in the morning and would end late at night. He took two classes a semester for six-and-a-half years to inch toward his goal.
"It was tough," Wright said. "4:30 or 5 p.m. was when class started and I didn't get home until 10 or 10:30 p.m."
Fortunately, at the time, tuition assistance was much greater and Wright was able to go to school without touching his Montgomery G.I. Bill.
After finishing school and his enlistment Wright separated from the Air Force.
"I got a DD214 separation," Wright explained. "Two minutes later I commissioned as a second lieutenant in the inactive reserves and was in the inactive reserves for four years while I was in dental school."
For 45 days out of the year he was on active duty status but his mission then was to go to school and study.
The years of hard work and commitment finally payed off. Wright left dental school as a doctor and reached the rank of captain and continued his active duty service at Warner Robins AB, Georgia, and Kunsan AB, Korea. On his next assignment, Wright ended up right back where he started - here on Kadena.
The military in general looks for leaders to have a broad perspective. Having a prior enlisted experience has helped Wright lead in his unit today.
"If anything, it gives me a good comprehension of the whole picture and how things work," Wright said. "I don't have to get in the weeds, but I can, which makes me recourse as well for people to come and ask for guidance."
As a dentist and commander in the Air Force, Wright's job is to take care of his patients and provide professional care to military personnel and their dependents.
"I wanted to do something in the medical field because I wanted to help people," Wright said. "While I was enlisted I was able to do it that way, but I saw that I wanted to contribute more or have more control over the treatment that I rendered. As a dentist I have that autonomy to render that care and treatment to patients; it's very fulfilling."