As Glen Smith, D.M.D., graduated from the University of Alabama School of Dentistry in 1969, his incredible journey was just beginning.

The Mobile native and current Tuscaloosa resident recently discussed his life in dentistry, the army, and civic affairs, often laughing as he recalled the times and events that helped shape his life.

When first enrolling at Birmingham Southern College, Smith thought he wanted to become a chemist. As he navigated the undergraduate waters, he learned the curriculum for becoming a dentist was more appealing.

""“When I first came to the School of Dentistry, it was pretty demanding. It was daunting. The basic science courses, gross anatomy and Saturday classes were nearly too much for me,” he said. “A lot of students flunked out because of basic sciences.”

Later on, clinical requirements placed even greater demands on his classmates. Smith shared, “For those of us who went on to the military, we felt we were better trained than our contemporaries. Without a doubt, I received a great education. Several of the faculty published textbooks. They invented four-handed dentistry. They were all very accomplished.”

Smith bonded with his classmates, including future American Dental Association President Dr. Howard Jones. When they weren’t studying or seeing patients, he and others held part-time jobs at the VA blood bank. The dental students also found creative ways to party in their quest to blow off a little steam. “We studied all the time, but we managed to have a lot of fun. I was in a dental fraternity and actually lived in a fraternity house part of the time I was a student,” said Smith, who loves to share PG-Rated versions of his highly animated dental school days.

He vividly recalled the night his Psi Omega fraternity had a band party in Birmingham’s south side. He said it became so raucous the party had to be shut down, but not before one of the band’s members decided he too wanted to become a dentist.

Smith and his friends enjoyed taking in collegiate and professional sports events too. He said that back then, dental students were able to purchase University of Alabama football and basketball tickets. He also recalled a trip to Atlanta when a group drove to see the Braves and Dodgers play baseball. At the time, the Dodgers had three future hall of fame pitchers in Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, and Don Sutton.

But the parties and fun came to a grinding halt upon graduation. With the Vietnam War in full swing, Smith and several classmates joined the service. He was commissioned as a Captain in the U.S. Army and sent to Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas for basic training. Eventually he learned he would be stationed in Da Lat, Vietnam, where he would serve between 1970 and 1971. He said, “I was surprised. Most of us who completed basic training had already been alerted on whether we would have to go to Vietnam. I thought I had dodged a bullet, but then I got word and had to tell my wife, Rhoda, I would have to serve a year there.”

Fortunately for Smith and others, the fighting had calmed considerably after the 1968 Tet Offensive. Although he called it a little hairier when he made monthly trips to the coastal town of Nha Trang. He said they were regularly bombarded with mortars and rockets and shared, “We had to get under our bunks on occasion, but for the most part my tour was pretty quiet.” Ultimately, he calls his time in Vietnam the most remarkable year of his life. His tour gave him the opportunity to treat an underserved population called the Montagnard. He and other dentists mainly performed extractions on this indigenous “people of the mountain.”

After serving in Vietnam, Smith decided he wanted to make the Army his career. He would eventually tour Germany from 1981 to 1985, while the rest of his service was stateside. His stops included Fort Sill in Oklahoma, Forts Benning and Stewart in Georgia, a General Dentist Residency at Fort Knox in Kentucky. In addition, he served three years at Fort Rucker in Alabama and his final six years at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. He retired with the rank of Colonel. When he relives his experiences, you can see Smith’s pride swell up. “It was a great experience,” he said. “Rhoda and I both got to travel a lot. We got to see Europe. I learned a lot about dentistry in my residency. Our clinics were basically huge group practices. I felt comfortable and confident being surrounded by all those specialists.”

Once the family moved back to Alabama, Smith worked as a part-time dentist with the Jefferson County Health Department. Now fully retired, he calls Tuscaloosa home. He continues to attend University of Alabama sporting events year-round -- although he admits he attends mainly home games now. He says he is enjoying life and contributing to the community in numerous ways.

Last year, Smith was honored with the LeRoy McAbee Distinguished Service Award, which annually recognizes a military veteran for community service. He has been involved with the Tuscaloosa Exchange Club since 2007, serving as its president and on their Foundation board. He was recently named Alabama’s Exchange Club Man of the Year. In addition to his regular Exchange Club meetings, he and his cadre gather weekly at The Alcove to discuss and solve the world’s problems. At one recent meeting, he regaled the group with his masterful, colorful descriptions of “Gunsmoke” trivia.

Smith shared that he and Rhoda, who he met on a blind date while he was in dental school, enjoy each other’s company now more than ever. Avid readers who spend a lot of time on Lake Tuscaloosa, they have two adult sons and one granddaughter. He sums it up best, “I’ve had a great life and the School of Dentistry is a big reason why I’ve been able to enjoy it.”

By J. Scott Huffman, CFRE