DeStigter's father and two brothers were employed in the construction business, but, after having braces on his teeth as a youngster, Tim decided he wanted to enter the dentistry profession.
While in undergraduate studies at Dordt College in Sioux Center, he served as a teaching instructor in some labs. In one such lab, he had a student from Clear Lake named Julie, who later became his wife.
DeStigter joined the Guard while in Dental School at the University of Iowa. Like many of his fellow students, his motivation to join the Guard at that time was "it was a way to make a few extra bucks." Instead, he found a career that has offered him both the opportunity to serve others, and to be his own boss.
After joining the Iowa Army National Guard, DeStigter served for six years, until transferring to the Army Reserves. In 1994, he joined the Iowa Air National Guard as a dental officer. In 2001, he became the Medical Group Commander for the 185th Air Refueling Wing, based in Sioux City, and he was recently promoted to Air National Guard Assistant to the Dental Surgeon of the United States Air Force (USAF/SGD).
In the meantime, Tim and Julie DeStigter moved to the town of Aurelia and set up a dental practice. Tim's father, 70 years old at the time, helped build his office in Aurelia.
After 9/11, DeStigter volunteered several times to be deployed to Iraq to provide dental care for the service men and women there, and he was finally granted his wish in May of this year.
During his deployment, Dr. DeStigter had the unique opportunity to treat an insurgent who had turned informant. The man had an abscess on his jaw the size of a baseball. Left untreated, his outcome would have been fatal. Dr. DeStigter created an incision to drain the abscess and removed the infected tooth. By providing care to a former assailant, the intelligence people were able to obtain information that could be used for the war effort, hopefully to help protect U.S. soldiers.
"I don't think I have saved too many lives during my career, but in this case, I think I did," he said.
Dr. DeStigter said some of his most memorable experiences in Iraq included acting as an "ambassador of goodwill" by providing critical, emergency dental care to Iraqi children and civilians, through the U.S. military's outreach program in Iraq.
Another profound experience for DeStigter was his involvement in the ceremonies for fallen service members as they were escorted onto airplanes to return to the United States. These memorial ceremonies, commonly referred to as Patriot Details, were attended by personnel who had served with the fallen soldiers. DeStigter said the ceremonies were performed with the utmost dignity and respect for the service members and their families.
"I have never felt so humbled as to have been allowed to serve these true heroes," he said.
DeStigter said his experience in Iraq has made him appreciate the sacrifices our men and women in the service are making for our country and for the people in Iraq.
"I've found that the little stuff we often complain about seems so insignificant now, and I'm going to make every effort not to complain about trivial things," he said.
Dr. DeStigter has operated his own practice in Aurelia for the past 25 years. When he found out he would be going to Iraq for a few months, he was concerned for his patients' oral health and dental hygiene while he would be away. When his colleagues heard that DeStigter would be deployed, they immediately offered to support his practice and serve his patients in his absence. Recently retired Cherokee dentist John Barlow graciously went to DeStigter's office twice a week to treat his patients, ensuring that they were receiving necessary and proper care. Other area dentists who helped out during DeStigter's absence were Dr. Greg Hansen of Storm Lake, Dr. Tim Menke of Cherokee, and Dr. Thad Thompson of Odebolt.
"My colleagues were very supportive of my service in Iraq, and that cannot be overstated," DeStigter said. "We have always been colleagues rather than competitors, and I think this speaks volumes for the dental community as a whole."
DeStigter also received tremendous support from his family regarding his decision to serve in Iraq. His two daughters are both members of the 185th Air Refueling Wing themselves, and both serve one weekend a month in Sioux City, as does Col. DeStigter. Libby, 25, works as DeStigter's dental hygienist in Aurelia, while Lana, 20, is attending the University of Iowa. DeStigter's wife, Julie, is the superintendent of the River Valley School District.
At this time, Col./Dr. DeStigter feels he will serve in his current position for three more years, and then retire from the Guard.
Reflecting on his experience in Iraq, DeStigter said he would return to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom if given the chance. When he first returned to Iowa this summer, DeStigter was happy to see his family, of course, but also the green grass of Iowa - a far cry from the desert of Iraq. "And there was a drought going on at the time," he mused.
"I consider it an honor and a privilege to have served in Iraq," said Dr. DeStigter. "I want the people of Iowa to know that the men and women serving in Iraq believe in what they are doing and appreciate the support they are given by the folks back home."