By Contributing Editor Blair Drake
Capt. Dennis Bash, USN (Ret), knew early on he would serve in the military. He comes from a family with a tradition of service. His dad was a boatswain on USS Shangri-La during the Battle of Okinawa and the occupation of Japan in World War II. He also knew military service would help him achieve his goal of attending college.
“Our family was a middle-class family, and I knew my parents could not put me through school,” he said. “I made the decision during high school to enlist and become a hospital corpsman and get the benefits of the GI bill.”
In 1968, he enlisted in the Navy. After completion of recruit training and Hospital Corps "A" School at Great Lakes Naval Training Base, he attended Physical and Occupational Therapy Technicians School at the Naval School of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. He was discharged from active duty in August 1970.
He continued on his path to getting a college degree, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in physical therapy in June 1975 from The Ohio State University. Following graduation, he joined the staff of Blanchard Valley Hospital, where he held positions including staff physical therapist, assistant director of physical therapy, department head of physical therapy, and director of rehabilitation services. He eventually was promoted to director of rehabilitation services for the Blanchard Valley Health Association.
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During his professional career, Bash simultaneously continued a career in the Navy. He received a direct commission into the Medical Service Corps of the U.S. Navy Reserve in 1980 and went on to serve for 30 years. He was recalled to active duty on three separate occasions: for Operation Desert Storm, Kosovo operations, and the war on terror. He also graduated from the Naval War College; earned a Master of Business Administration; attended the National Defense University, Reserve Component National Security Course; and graduated from Advanced Joint Professional Military Education, Armed Forces Staff College, as a joint qualified officer.
A highlight of his military service was his deployment to Djibouti, East Africa, where he served as the deputy surgeon for the Combined Joint Task Force, Horn of Africa.
“In that capacity, I was able to use virtually all the skills I had been taught in a combined joint military,” Bash said.
He retired from the Navy on his 60th birthday in 2010. Two years later, he retired as director of real estate management and corporate compliance officer for the Blanchard Valley Health System.
Today, he keeps busy by giving back to his fellow servicemembers and veterans at all stages of their military careers.
He’s supporting future leaders as a master-level character development instructor in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), where he guides 12- to 18-year-olds through case studies that showcase the CAP core values of integrity, volunteer service, excellence, and respect. He also is helping to select future Navy leaders as a Blue and Gold Officer for the U.S. Naval Academy Information Program.
To help those who are currently serving, Bash volunteers in the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), and since 2015, he has referred 10 potential Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act violations to ESGR ombudsman for mediation.
He also serves on the Military and Veterans Advisory Council of Rep. Debbie Lesko, representing the ESGR and the Luke Chapter of MOAA, of which Bash is a member.
“We’re her ears in the community to bring back to her any issues that affect the military community that she can consider for legislation,” Bash said.
But the volunteer effort Bash is most proud of is his work through the Hospice of the Valley Saluting Our Veterans Program, through which he honors veterans in hospice care. He personally has saluted 30 veterans, and during the COVID-19 crisis, he created a video-taped ceremony to ensure dying veterans could safely receive the honor they deserve. More than 135 veterans have received this “virtual salute.”
“It’s the most rewarding to speak with veterans at the end of their lives and have them share with me experiences they have never shared,” Bash said. “I want to be there to help [these veterans] unload some of their burdens.”
These efforts to support the military and veterans’ community have not gone unnoticed. Bash recently was nominated for induction into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame. “I was taken aback,” he said of his nomination. “Because I don’t do any of this for reward.”
His motivation stems from his own military experience. “The military gave me every break in my life,” he said. “I want to help do the same for the youth and through the activities I’m involved with. I have a deep desire to give back for as long as I can.”
Blair Drake is a contributing editor for MOAA and lives in Souderton, Pa. She previously served on the editorial team of Military Officer magazine for nine years.
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