DIAMOND, Guyana — After 31 years of dentistry in his own private practice, Lt. Col. (Dr.) Darryl Bybee, 75th Dental Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, traded a comfortable office and a tie for a school with no air conditioning and an Airman battle uniform in a country in South America.
"It was time for a change," said Dr. Bybee.
His story begins at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., where after three years as a chemical engineering major, a veterinarian friend suggested he take a look at medical career fields.
"I applied to dental school and was accepted," Dr. Bybee said.
He was accepted to the dentistry program at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. Upon graduation, Dr. Bybee served in the U.S. Army between 1975 and 1977 as a dental officer, then opened his own practice in Pocatello, Idaho. He also gave his time to teaching one day a week at the Idaho State Dental Hygiene School.
"Dentistry has been very good for me," he said. "It has worked out well for my family in a lot of ways."
The parents of ten children, five boys and five girls, Dr. Bybee and his wife, Vicki, owned and operated his dental practice until he began to feel a need to change course. Offers were made to buy his practice and selling it didn't seem like a bad idea to them.
"I got a brochure in the mail about the Air Force," said Dr. Bybee. "I didn't think much of it and set it aside, but when I started applying for teaching jobs, I got a recruitment letter from the Air Force and I thought, 'You've got to be kidding, at my age?'Ã¢Ã¢"
The following spring, his practice sold and, at Vicki's urging, he took an Air Force physical.
"I didn't think I would pass the physical, but I did," he said. "I received an age waiver because I was 58 years old at the time, and I was also waiting to find out what rank I would receive once I entered through direct commission."
The review board gave Dr. Bybee the rank of lieutenant colonel due to his extensive experience and knowledge, and his recruiter helped him purchase and prepare his new Air Force uniforms. He was on the payroll and taking advantage of all the opportunities the Air Force affords.
"I have had a great opportunity to pursue continuing education through the Air Force," Dr. Bybee said. "I've got at least seven times more hours of continuing education and training since I joined than is required by the state to remain current."
After nearly three months of duty, Dr. Bybee faced combat skills training, something he had never experienced before and he was the man in charge.
"I just happened to be the highest ranking in the class and so naturally they put me in charge," said Dr. Bybee. "Even when I was in the Army, I'd never had formal military officer training. CST was a different experience for me, but I had run my own business for 31 years so I knew I could do it."
Dr. Bybee applies the same principles of owning and operating a business to his service now as an Air Force dentist.
"I've seen just about all you can see when it comes to dentistry," he said. "Young captains form the bulk of the dentistry force, so I'm happy to provide that mentorship to help bring them along to becoming great dentists."
For Capt. (Dr.) Rush Davidson, 56th Dental Squadron, Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., having a mentor is important, especially on a humanitarian mission such as New Horizons.
"Dr. Bybee has a lot to offer Air Force dentistry," said Dr. Davidson. "He's got a tremendous amount of knowledge and input for people like me who are just getting started out of dental school."
He may have only been in the Air Force about eleven months so far, but providing leadership, mentorship and years of experience is something Dr. Bybee is certainly not unfamiliar with. He is grateful too, for all the men and women who have helped him along his Air Force journey.
"Everyone in the Air Force has been so helpful and so supportive of me," Dr. Bybee said. "I'm so thankful for their help; my boss has been a great support also in helping me acclimate to the military side of things. I didn't realize how much of a sacrifice our men and women make while serving. Deployment is a difficult time for both serviceman and family. I'm grateful they love their country more than self."