A potential HPSP student read my blog and started a thread on the Student Doctor Network titled “One man’s perspective.” Apparently my #5 reason for leaving the Army Dental Corps (Culture and Loss of Faith) struck a small chord with Destiny11 and he or she sought clarification. Here is my response (to the responses).

Im glad to see people are still talking about my blog. I started it to serve as a resource for potential HPSP applicants to use to really see both sides of the coin before making the decision to serve as a dentist in the military. I’m continually pleased to see it fulfill its intent.To address the original posters concern with my #5 reason for leaving the Army:

Maybe I was bitter when I wrote the blog post, but I was not one bit surprised I didn’t get into the residency. In fact, I was told point blank that I would never get selected because of my blog. I wasn’t even going to bother applying but my Commander really encouraged me to give it a shot. For some reason I thought that the selection board was objective – only looking at records, letters of recommendation, grades, etc. Not so much…

Now that Im out of the Army and looking back at the blog, I can’t believe I didn’t get fired for writing some of the stuff I did! I should have been Court Martialed and made an example of. Deep down I knew the blog would be a career ender when I sat down with my Dad back in November of 2010 and told him I was going to start writing online about the ups and downs of being an Army Dentist. And not do it anonymously. (And thanks Dad for encouraging me to do it anyway.)

You can’t expect to badmouth the organization you work for and not suffer some recourse. But to counter AirborneDentist’s argument, I wasn’t just some newbie CPT with a 2.5 GPA who wanted to be an endodontist. I was a senior CPT recently selected for MAJ, with a 3.4 dental school GPA, a pretty darn good military record, and who graduated 2nd out of 8 AEGD residents in his class. So I think I demonstrated my academic ability pretty well. But that simply doesn’t make up for being an officer with a reputation for stirring the pot. There was no way someone like me should have been selected for a Dental Corps specialty residency. And I wasn’t.

In hindsight, the Army was a great place to practice dentistry. There are some great things about being an Army dentist. But like I have said many times, theres a lot of downside to it too. You just have to be informed and really understand what you’re getting into.

I appreciate Destiny11 giving me the opportunity to address this. And as always, I’m happy to discuss my experience as a dentist in the Army with anyone. Send me an email at armydentistry@gmail.com

Warning: This piece of satire first appeared on The Duffel Blog and is only remotely related to Army Dentistry or reality. 

Image

BY  ON NOVEMBER 3, 2013

NORFOLK, VA – The special operations community has been rocked by news the Navy’s elite counter-terrorism force, SEAL Team 6, recently failed mission requirements for operational dental readiness.

The entire force is currently designated as Dental Fitness Class 3, which places them in a “non-readiness compliant” category. Now non-deployable, there has been an outcry from military commanders unable to utilize an asset normally reserved for high level classified operations.

 

“This is ludicrous,” observed Vice Adm. John Miller, commander of 5th Fleet. “I guess now we know how Bin Laden was able to escape Tora Bora. Seriously, has tooth abscess ever really hurt anyone?”

Command dentists for USNAVSPECWARCOM, remain firm in their diagnosis of the team’s ongoing dental wellness issues. “To a man they are on the verge of a dental emergency within the next six to twelve months,” said one. He went on to explain Team 6 members suffer various dental conditions including cavities, root canal infections, and temporomadibular disorders.

“Jesse Ventura’s had far too much influence on the SEAL community with that Red Man tyrannosaurus business,” he said.

Commander of USNAVSPECWARCOM, Rear Adm. Brian Losey, claims overly-relaxed grooming standards and a lack of discipline contributed to the poor dental fitness classification. “It’s a domino effect,” he claimed. “First they stopped shaving and cutting their hair. Then their dental hygiene went down the shitter too.”

But many members of the Navy’s elite fighting force disagree. They contend relaxed hygiene and grooming standards helps them blend in with the local culture while deployed on hazardous missions.

“Look, I attend a lot of engagement meetings and shuras with local warlords and tribal leaders. If I blast them with minty fresh breath I’m a dead man,” said Chief Petty Officer [REDACTED]. “We spend entire deployments without having a solid crap or wiping our asses, and it has a significant impact on mission success. Halitosis is a force protection measure.”

Other team members have deep-seated issues with dentistry in general. “I’ll low crawl through broken glass if they want me to,” said Petty Officer [REDACTED]. “No way I’m sitting in that reclining chair though. Haji war cries and IED explosions don’t bother me in the slightest, but the high pitched whine of a dental drill sets my PTSD off like nobody’s business.”

Dental technicians attached to USNAVSPECWARCOM have tried to reassure their Naval brethren SEALs have nothing to fear. “Here we’re pretty much the Spec Ops of the dental and health care communities,” said DT3 [REDACTED], “I once used a water pick on a SEAL during his dental exam. Now I’m practically a SEAL myself. ”

SEAL Team 6′s dental hygiene issues are suspected to be the reason a recent mission to capture an Islamist terrorist was aborted in Somalia. The scrubbed mission took place the same day Army special operations forces captured wanted terrorist Anas al-Libi in Tripoli, Libya.

Unlike their Naval counterparts, Delta Force commandos are renowned for their immaculate, pearly white teeth.

“Look at the chompers on them,” noted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “They’re like a walking billboard for dental floss.”

The other side of the fence

Posted: October 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

Well folks, I’m out of the Army. Sort of. I’m still technically on “transitional leave” throughout the end of the month. We have settled into our new home in Columbia, SC and I started my new position in the world of private practice last week. So far it is really good. 

I made the decision a few months ago to transfer into the reserve component of the US Army instead of completely severing ties. To put things bluntly, I need to provide health insurance to my family and the Army Reserve was the best option for me. So “Army Dentistry: The Blog” will continue. 

Thanks to all the readers who have contacted me and commented on my writing over the past few years. This blog will be here for many years to come and I hope to continue to document the transition from the Army back to Civilian life.

 

I keep getting this question so I figure it is time to publicly address it. My normal response is “Well, it’s just my time to go.” But now that the dust has settled and I look back objectively at the decision to leave the Army, five main factors stand out as critical in my decision-making process. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Geographical Control. I have been in the Army for just over five years and have had three Permanent Changes of Stations (PCS): Georgia, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania. On top of that we moved once at our own expense when I went to Afghanistan. That is four moves in five years. To stay competitive in my branch I would have to move at least once more for residency and once more for a follow on assignment after residency. Including the moves I made growing up in the military that brings the total number of PCSs in my life to 19. I’m exhausted and do not want to keep doing this any longer. I’m also not willing to do that to my wife and kids. There are rumors in the Army about getting away from moving soldiers every few years, but even two more relocations are too many. Especially when I have very little control over where I would go.

2. Quality of Life. I am not talking about living conditions. When I say “quality of life” I’m talking about not getting to choose where I want to live, and being told how to dress, groom, behave, communicate, think, etc. It’s a lot of small stuff, but small stuff adds up over five years and takes a toll. Vehicle inspections, leave forms, having to wear the Army Combat Uniform to work every single day only to change into scrubs once I get there. Constant Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention training, Suicide Prevention training,  Anti-terrorism training and Cyber-security training. The list keeps getting longer! Micromanagement of how I practice dentistry and live my life – on and off duty. Being treated as if I have the morals of a felon and the decision making skills of a fifteen year old gets old fast.

3. Organizational Future. This is a big concern across the Army. Sequestration is real and budget cuts are coming. And they are going to be huge. I’m just guessing here, but I would not be surprised to see certain dental special pays cut (or even eliminated) as well as supply budgets, moneys for continuing education and training, and even retirement and health care benefits. I also have concerns that DENCOM may go the way of VETCOM and get absorbed under MEDCOM somehow. I think that situation is a remote possibility, but it would be devastating for the Dental Corps.

4. Leadership Examples. Let me be clear, I am not criticizing the chain of command. My concern is that there are few senior officers in the Dental Corps that a junior dentist can look up to.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some that I think are amazing – both as clinicians and Army officers. But sadly, many of the ones I have worked with are bitter, disgruntled, and out of touch.  So why would a junior dentist decide to spend a career in the Army when so many of those who have done so seem bitter about it?

5. Culture and Loss of Faith. I have concerns about working for an organization with a culture that does not appear to value sacrifice, selfless service, or experience. The Army Dental Corps is the only branch I know that continues to reward officers who have conveniently “opted out” of participating in the War on Terror. Last year Army Graduate Dental Education selected dental students over senior Captains and Majors for the Endodontic Residency Program. I was one of the senior Captains who was passed over in favor of less experienced officers. The organization’s message was clear: we do not value your service, the sacrifices you made for your nation, or your military record enough to select you for residency training.  After that incident I simply lost faith in the organization. And that faith never recovered.

Notice what wasn’t on the list: Money or Deployments. Those issues had very little effect on my decision to stay or go whatsoever. Some would be surprised by that.

So those are my big five reasons. I caught a lot of flak the last time I put a top ten list on “why to get out” of the Dental Corps. Hopefully readers will not see these five reasons as the complaints of some foolish junior officer, but as the reality of one Army Dentist’s objective decision to leave the Army.

20,000 views!

Posted: July 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

The blog hit twenty thousand views today!  Thanks to everyone who reads, subscribes, comments, and contributes. I have slacked off a bit the last few months, but I hope to have some more interesting posts soon. 

Guest Bloggers

Posted: July 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

I have decided to try opening this site to guest bloggers and see how it goes.  My hope is that there might be some out there who can share their experiences as an Army Dentist, a patient, a member of the organization, a family member, or perhaps a HPSP student.

Here are the rules. 1. Topics must be relevant to Army Dentistry. 2. You are responsible for what you write, although you may publish anonymously or under a pseudonym if you choose. 3. I reserve the right to select what gets published. Submissions can be stories, subjects for debate, concerns, or questions about life in the US Army Dental Corps.

If you have a post you would like to submit, please email it to armydentistry@gmail.com.

Finally

Posted: July 9, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

A 93-year-old retired dentist finally received his diploma from The Citadel 64 years after being pulled from college to serve in WWII. Sadly, he passed away Friday, only a week after the diploma was presented to him.

Provided by the Robert Williams family Vincent Williams (from left), 91, holds the diploma presented Saturday to his brother, Robert, 93, by a 2013 Citadel graduate, Marine 2nd Lt. Scott Holmes.

Provided by the Robert Williams family Vincent Williams (from left), 91, holds the diploma presented Saturday to his brother, Robert, 93, by a 2013 Citadel graduate, Marine 2nd Lt. Scott Holmes.

As of tomorrow morning I no longer owe any time to the US Army. All contracts complete, all obligations fulfilled.

A few months ago I made the decision to leave the Army. It was a tough decision to make, but in the end I have no doubt that I made the right decision. I don’t think the grass is greener on the other side…it’s just time for something different.

This hasn’t been the easiest journey… and I still am not sure if it was worth it. Three moves in five years and a year deployed… I’m not bitter, but I once I’m a civilian again I hope to spend some time reflecting and writing more about  my experience.

It’s going to be a few more months until my separation paperwork is completed and I’m actually a civilian again. I think that is when this blog is going to get really good again…

milk n' honey_big

The winter months in Afghanistan can be cold and dry. In the river valley it rarely snows and surprisingly it gets really dry. And showering with cheap body wash in heavily chlorinated water left my skin begging for moisture.

One day I had the idea to find some nice homemade soap that was good for dry, itchy skin. I found a nice lady from Michigan who had a small business named Marmalade Hills that made and sold homemade soaps online. I ordered a couple of oatmeal and honey soap bars that were supposed to help keep skin from drying out and relieve itching. Well, when this nice lady found out she was sending some soap to a soldier in Afghanistan she decided to hook a fellow up. When I received my purchase in the mail I found that she had put at least a half-dozen different bars of soap, two tubs of scented body butter, and several tubes of lip balm. It was awesome!

My elation was short-lived however. I realized that despite the sweet soap hookup, I just became a male soldier in Afghanistan that had a bunch of foo-foo girly scented soap and lotion in his room. I got worried that someone would smell the soap in my room or, worse, smell something on me. That’s how rumors get started…

So I hid that box of  soaps and wonderful potions and lotions as quickly as if someone had just sent me a box of pornography and liquor. I knew the consequences would be huge if I got caught.

I discreetly and carefully explored the contents of the box as if I was an EOD guy disarming a bomb. Some of those soaps had glitter on them. And once you get glitter on you …it is hard to get off. And if I was seen with even a speck of glitter on my skin I would never hear the end of it.  I sorted the non-glitter soaps from the glitter soaps. The glitter soaps were immediately placed in zip-lock bags and sealed off from all other non-glitter soaps. The non-glitter soaps were inspected carefully to make sure no traces of glitter could be found.

The soaps were amazing. That oatmeal and honey bar was quite nice on my skin and had almost no lingering smell afterward. I felt guilty hoarding all these nice soaps so I decided to discreetly share them with some of those in my trusted inner circle. Here is the actual email traffic that went out:

Me: “Hey guys. I ordered a bar of all natural soap from this lady’s online
store. She saw that it was an APO address and sent me a couple extra
bars of really nice soaps. If you guys want a bar just let me know. I’m
happy to share.”
KB: “So… you ordered lady soap?”
Me: “Yup. It leaves my skin silky and smooth. I’m strangely comfortable with that.”
JS: “I would love to try a bar.”
JL: ” Mike, Don’t take Percocet or Ambien then shop online.- J***”
JL: “Mike, The way I read this e-mail, it really sounds like you are purchasing [sic] women’s soap.- J***”
I won’t name any names here, but late one night there was a tap on my door. When I opened the door there was a man standing there in the shadows. He looked around to make sure no one was looking then said to me quietly ” So…I hear you’re the guy to talk to about some soap…”

I wanted to take a break from my usual writing to put some information out there about the financial benefits of the HPSP program. I know there are a lot of dental students and future dental students who read this blog so here is some information for you. And with the rising cost of dental education this is becoming more and more important.

When I was in dental school, a classmate gave me a hard time about taking the Army scholarship. He said it was financially a foolish move and that I could make so much more money in the civilian world. I explained to him that my decision to come in the Army was not about the money in my particular case, but a desire to serve. He couldn’t argue with that one, but remained adamant that I got a raw deal.

So after five years in the Army I am looking back and re-evaluating the cost benefits of this scholarship.  All non-financial issues aside, this program was totally worth it. Here is my rationale using the in-state numbers from my dental school in todays dollars.

Tuition and living expenses for 4 years: $336,131. I’m assuming a Stafford loan with the current default* 6.8% interest rate and the standard 10 year payback. Using a student loan calculator, a new dentist from my dental school would need $3,868 a month to pay that loan off in ten years. Over the ten-year term of the loan, he would pay $128,053 in interest bringing the total cost of his dental undergraduate education to $464,184.

Now lets run those numbers based on a 4 year commitment to the Army – meaning your dental school loan is paid off in four years, not ten. With those same numbers, a new dentist wanting to beat the HPSP would have to find $8,017 in his monthly budget to pay off that loan. That is $96,204 a year in student loans. That is feasible if you are a practice owner, but an associate making a generous $110,000 a year would have to live off of about $14 grand a year for four years to beat the HPSP.

So here I am at almost the five-year mark (I had a five-year commitment because I completed an AEGD). My dental school is almost paid off. I’m in a pretty good position to buy a nice practice and a nice home –  or do whatever I want without having to worry about paying that huge note if I choose to leave the military.

*Term “default” used to refer to the default setting of the online loan calculator. This does not refer to the interest rate charged to a borrower when a loan is overdue.