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Military supporters retire

Dhanes went above and beyond, hand reigns to another Army orthodontist

John Dhane was photographed on his last day of work. Photo credit: Facebook

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It's not every military supporter that upon retirement is invited over to the commanding general's home for a goodbye party. But, John and Denise Dhane aren't your average military supporters.

In the time that Col. (ret) John Dhane, DDS and his wife Denise have operated their orthodontic practice in DuPont, hundreds of thousands of troops and their families have been supported with superhero strength by this dynamic couple.  There were the thousands of care packages they sent during the war through the organization Denise founded, Operation Make a Soldier Smile; the countless care packages single soldiers found waiting for them in their barracks rooms after redeployment through the Single Soldier Project Denise co-founded; the door prizes donated to the Lewis Community Spouses Club; the direct support to several brigades and CID on post with barbecues and holiday baskets; not to mention the day to day support of military families in their practice.

For the Dhanes there are two types of people in the world: those who ‘get it' and those who don't. It's a phrase Denise uses freely when someone understands the sacrifices of the military or bestows generosity and goodwill to any of the servicemembers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Quite simply, those people ‘get it'.

Denise is also well-known in military circles for stalking an NFL quarterback ... but in a good way. In 2009, during the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team's deployment to Afghanistan, they had lost a large number of soldiers from the 1-17 Infantry Battalion in rapid succession and the loss was felt everywhere on JBLM. Denise, who had been sending packages to 5th SBCT, was devastated.

Then she happened to see LTC Jon Neumann, then commander of the 1-17, while he was home on R&R, and the Super Bowl came up in conversation. Neumann proceeded to tell her about one of his most recent losses, Sgt. Patrick Williamson, who was known throughout the battalion as an avid Saints fan. So, in honor of Williamson and their fallen brothers, Neumann informed Dhane that they were all pulling for a New Orleans' win.

Within a week, Dhane was on a plane to the Big Easy with signs that showcased 5th SBCT. She stood in front of Drew Brees' house for a few days vying for attention. Unfortunately, Brees was away and Dhane had to settle for leaving a note.

Months passed with no response, yet Dhane was determined. She began to call in any connections she had in her former home city and eventually was given a direct number for Nick Karl, director of Community Relations for the Saints.

Karl said that he would talk to Brees, but warned her not to expect too much. Still not satisfied with her chances, Dhane then hired a PR firm, which worked for her on a pro-bono basis after hearing the story of Dhane's mission.

"Things stalled a few times, but then they got back on track," Dhane said. "I was at a coffee shop and I got a phone call from Karl to check my email. So I took a deep breath and did it."

The email held the link to the video she'd been working for, a personally recorded message by Brees for the soldiers of 5th SBCT that welcomed them home and most importantly, thanked them for their service. Following their redeployment in 2010, the video was distributed to every battalion commander in 5th SBCT and Dhane said that she continually runs into soldiers who mention it to her.

Where Denise is the Energizer Bunny, her husband John keeps the money flowing from his practice to support his wife's efforts.  Both were honored June 15 at I Corps' Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Steve Lanza's home.  The downstairs were packed with flag officers and other military supporters from the community.  

Once the Dhanes sell their Steilacoom home, they are headed to the Okanogan in Washington State where they own a farm that produces cherries and other produce.

"John is ready to be a farmer," Denise said recently.  "He wants to get on that tractor and go."

The Dhanes have not, however, left their practice to just anyone.  John said he would only leave his business to someone that not only subscribed to the same orthodontic prinicipals as him, but also knew and supported the troops.

Enter Kirk Dahlke who recently left the Army as one of a handful of Army orthodontists.  He most recently served at Fort Irwin.

"I knew this was the practice for me," Dahlke said.  

Like John Dhane, Dahlke wanted a practice that supported the troops, cared for patience with integrity, and that was part of a tight community.

"DuPont was the perfect solution for my family and I," he added.

Melissa Renahan contributed to this report.

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