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Transitioning from military to business owner

An orthodontist's experience

Kirk Dahlke, DMD, MS, prepares to examine military spouse Indra Baboram for new braces with the help of assistant Lorena Hernandez, also a military spouse. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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Transitioning from the military can be a challenging life experience. Throw in a move and launch a business into the mix, and you either sink or you swim.  For orthodontist Kirk Dahlke, DMD, MS, who transitioned from the Army in 2016 and opened Dahlke Orthodontics, it has been a period of adjustment but ultimately rewarding as he approaches the one-year anniversary of opening May 2.

During the last year of his military commitment, Dahlke spent time deciding whether to get out and start a private practice or stay in until retirement.  Once the decision to get out was made, the real work began.

"I spent time researching practices for sale, visiting the practices and meeting with the owners. My wife and I talked about places we wanted to live. I took a transition course through the American Association of Orthodontists. I got life insurance and looked into health insurance. I read books, prayed and followed the advice of others in my situation," he said.

When getting out of the military, it is important to know if your skills are marketable.

"As an Army orthodontist, I always knew getting out and starting a private practice was an option," he said. "My dental education included classes on business ownership."

It is also critical to know when you need help.

"Once I decided to purchase from Dr. Dhane, we hired an attorney to help with the legal side of the transition," he added.

Dahlke offers advice to others thinking of starting a business after military service.

"My advice to others starting a business after service in the Army is a warning of the time-consuming nature of owning a business. You will have the freedom to set your own schedule, but you will not be free from obligations, many obligations. The main difference in owning my own practice is that everything is on me. In the military, there were a lot of people around me working specialized jobs to meet standards. Now I am in charge of making sure all the standards are met."

Dahlke and his wife Paige decided to settle in a military town.

"I wanted to be able to provide good quality care to our military families. When I was deployed, I depended on good people in town to take care of my family. I wanted to be someone military families can rely on and trust.  Military families sacrifice as much as soldiers and don't get recognition."

Dahlke carries over his support of military families into employment.  He currently has seven employees, five of whom are military spouses.

Dahlke Orthodontics, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 8 a.m. to noon, Friday, 1100 Station Dr., #281, DuPont, 253.912.9383,

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