The Comfort Zone

Posted: April 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

I came across an old letter I wrote to myself when I was in Afghanistan. It was scribbled in a journal. Please excuse any grammatical errors.


I am writing to the future. In approximately a year you will have to decide whether to stay Army or to go. Many tempting offers will be placed on the table. Money (bonuses, student loan repayment), residency, assignments of choice. You will have to do math – weigh the value of a retirement package. Weigh the value of a DOMRB (Dental Officer Multi-year Retention Bonus). Ask yourself how much you value the security blanket the Army provides and how secure it actually is.

But the number one question you have to answer is: “Is staying in or getting out better for me or my family?”

The answer is unquestionably “GET OUT.” All the promises they make are lies. All the benefits and security under attack. All your civil liberties and personal freedoms are taken in the military. I can’t even be the man I want to be. No control. Even back in garrison, the Army is not the place I want to spend my life. Bottom line. I only have one life to live. 

So despite the temptation to stay in and the fear of the unknown that rests with the decision to get out, the right thing to do is to leave the military. The opportunity cost lost by staying – both in dollars and days- is too much to bear. 

So take the risk, know that it is the more difficult route, and step outside the comfort zone. I firmly believe that despite the struggles it will no doubt bring, the decision to 100% leave the military ( no National Guard, no Army Reserve) is the right decision. And I will one day ask “Why was I so scared and why did I ever have any doubt?”

Michael Barno 

October 22, 2011

Epilogue: Life After The Army

Posted: January 28, 2016 in Uncategorized


Good news! There is life after the Army.

Two years ago I left active duty after 5 years as a general dentist in the US Army Dental Corps. Since then I have been in private practice in Columbia, South Carolina. One year as an associate, and since January of 2015, the owner of Brickyard Dental Group. The last two years have been two of the most enlightening and enriching years of my life. And two of the most challenging.

Recently I have spent a little time thinking back on my time in uniform – and about how different things are now. Both in my personal and professional life. There are so many aspects of my new job as the owner of a group dental practice that terrified me as I was transitioning out of the military. So many things that I feared made me want to stay in the Army where things were safe and predictable.

But I’m glad I did not stay in the Army.

For those who aren’t familiar with the military…the Army Dental Corps is a peculiar environment in which a dentist enters, usually right out of school, and signs up to work for a specific period of military service. This is almost always in exchange for some form of scholarship or loan repayment. It is not like the civilian world where one can essentially quit a job at any time or feel free to take a new job at any time. The Army requires you sign contracts that keep you locked in – usually for 3-5 years at a time. This creates a labor force in which the senior workers in the organization have, over a course of 20 plus years, had to make multiple decisions stay in the service instead of leaving to practice in a non-military community. Therefore the senior leaders are the ones who have consistently made the decision to stay inside military dentistry.

I would argue that for the most part, no young dentist comes into the Army with the thought that “I want to be an Army Dentist forever.” That just is not the case. Most young dentists come into the Army out of obligation. And their goal is to serve their time and then leave and enter the civilian workforce. Some do their time and get out. Some stick around and get specialty training. But only a handful stick around for 20 years — the earliest one can officially “retire” from the military.

But that creates a unique mentorship environment. On one hand, you have young dentists who have no private practice experience (or any experience for that matter) who aspire to become civilian dentists. And on the other hand you have senior dentists — the only dentists these young dentists are mentored by — who have never been in private practice.

As a former young Army dentist, I cannot tell you how many times I heard the following from senior Army dentists about the “world of private practice:”

  • “You have to “sell” dentistry, and I don’t want to do that…”
  • “You have to deal with insurance companies, and I don’t want to do that…
  • “You’re going to have to see twice as many patients to make any kind of living, and I don’t want to do that…
  • “You’re going to have to take on a ton of debt. And I don’t want to do that…
  • “You’re going to have to work hard if you want to survive. And I don’t want to do that…”
  • “That Army retirement is sooooo good. I don’t have to save my own money”

I can tell you that they are right!

Pretty much all of the statements they made are true. But what I have learned is that there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, these realities make private practice that much more amazing.

Yes, I have to sell dentistry. But only if selling is informing a patient of my findings and then having a conversation about what their options are. That’s as far as my “sales pitch” goes.

Yes, I have to deal with insurance companies. My office is privileged to act as a mediator on behalf of my patients to help them get the benefits they deserve. Insurance companies do not dictate care in my practice. And my amazing staff handles the majority of this.

Yes, I have to see more patients. But that is not because I’m trying to make ends meet or make a little more money. It is because my services and those of my team are in demand. In fact, In many ways I see fewer patient than when I was in the Army. And I definitely work fewer days per week. I still only work out of one chair and I do not double book patients. That is out of respect for my patients. (I also see more patients because I don’t block off 90 minutes to do a 4 surface amalgam anymore.) I am blessed and thankful to be so busy.

Yes, I had to take on debt. I bought a business. That business provides income for me and my staff. I cant think of a better kind of debt to take on.

Yes, I have to work harder. I have a lot more responsibilities than I ever had in the Army. But with hard work comes significant reward. It is more true than I imagined.

The only one I disagree with is the retirement piece. The Army retirement is good. But its not as great as some make it out to be. That said,  I’d still rather assume the responsibility of saving my own money. Yeah, it takes discipline. But at least congress cant take it away from me. More importantly, if I die young my surviving family members get to keep the entirety of what was saved. Not so for military retirees.

All that said, I love where I am in life now. I love leading a team of three dentists and an amazing staff. I love my patients. I love being able to provide the type of dentistry that I believe is right for the patient. And I love doing the dentistry that I want to do, not the dentistry I am told to do.

I wake up every morning excited to go to work! I thank God every day for my staff, my patients, my practice, and all the blessings He has provided. And yes, I pray that out loud in my morning staff meeting. (I am allowed to do that. I own the business and the building now, remember?)

My time in uniform was an important stage in my life.  As the author John Eldredge would argue, it was the Warrior Phase in my life that I needed to pass through before I could become King. I have no regrets. I am glad that I served as an Army Dentist. And I am glad that I got out when I did.

More practically, I am thankful that I went to dental school on an HPSP scholarship. I would not be in the practice that I am had I not had zero student debt and 5 years of clinical experience under my belt. I have the Army to thank for that. I strongly encourage those who are up to the challenge to consider the HPSP. And I would encourage those in dental school and young military dentists who think they want to own a practice to get a few years of experience before they jump in to owning a business.

I still get emails from dental students, young Army dentists, (and the occasional irate senior Army dentist.) I think this will be my last blog post on, but I would still encourage those who want to contact me to do so at


DISCLAIMER: The next few posts will be a series of submissions from a guest blogger. These posts are unedited and solely the opinion of the author. They do not represent the views of, the US Army, The US Army Dental Corps, AMEDD, or DENCOM. 

Preface from the author 

This is a collection of stories from my time as a dental corps officer. I signed up for the HPSP scholarship as soon as I got accepted to dental school. Looking back, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I completed a 12-Month AEGD through the Army upon graduating dental then spent another 7 months at that assignment. I was then transferred to a new location and that’s when I experienced the “real army dental corps”. I had no idea how good I had it in my residency. 

I will be leaving the Army in less than a month. I wanted to save and put this together in order to remind myself how dental corps operates. People tend to only remember the “good times” and I am all for that, but I don’t want to be tempted to ever return to the Army Dental Corps. 

Lastly, I would like to just say that I have no problems with the Army at all. Despite what you are about to read, I love working with soldiers. They are the best patients in the world. My big issue is with the Dental Corps itself. From the lowest OIC to the highest commander at DENCOM, the system is just insane and nearly drove me insane.


 About the Diary 

The stories below are all true. They might be all from “my point of view” but they are all true. I have removed some names of people for their own privacy, but I personally know them all. This isn’t in any way a complete account for my time. These are simply the more humorous stories that best represent the way the corps. All the emails are DIRECT copies and ALL the picture are unaltered. 

Below are some terms we use to help clear things up. 

OIC: “Officer-In-Charge” Clinic Manager and Supervisor. Usually, a full bird Colonel. 

Commander: The Boss. They usually are in charge of all the clinics in the area. 

NCO: “Non-Commissioned Officer” Enlisted soldiers who work as admins in the clinic. 

AEGD: Post Doctorate training program in general dentistry. 

Bravo: A person who completed a 2 year AEGD. In this Diary, it’s the same person. 

Bay Docs: Staff General Dentists. The ‘bitches’ of the clinic. I am one of them. 

GFC: “Going Frist Class”; One of several poorly designed practice models that “big army” has mandated. This model is hated by everyone in the clinics. Including OIC’s 


Facts about the Clinic 

– Clinic management will announce over the loudspeaker that the walk-in exam doctor needs help because they cannot keep up with the exams and is running behind…while at the same time continuing to add more exams onto that doctor’s schedule. 

– If your assistant is absent, the person who stands at the front door and who is in charge of the morning sign in and accountability will get angry with you later that morning for not informing them of your assistant’s absence. 

– The clinic management consults the least productive general dentist in the clinic on how to make the other, more productive general dentists, more efficient. 

– If you add up the FOUR highest ranking (and highest paid) officers in the clinic, their COMBINED production is less than the lowest paid general dentist in the clinic. 

– The general dentist in charge of GFC is also the ONLY general dentist who has NEVER done a single day of GFC. 

– As the dentist you have absolutely no input on the annual performance review of your own assistants. It is done by someone who has never worked with them. 

– Your assistant is required to fill out, sign, submit, and get approval for absences in the clinic. The NCOIC, practice manager, and clinic secretary each get a copy of this leave form. You are not given a copy or any notice of any type. Then, when your assistant is out, the same people who approve (and have copies of that leave form) will get confused and angry if you do not inform them that your assistant is out. 

– Enlisted DENTAC soldiers are given PT time three days a week and go to the weapons range on a regular basis…and have no chance of deploying even if they volunteer. DENTAC officers (dentists) are given one day of PT time, no opportunity to qualify on the shooting range, and yet get regularly tasked for combat deployments. 

– You are required to wear you full uniform into work. Then you change into scrubs for clinic. Then back to uniform for lunch. Then back to scrubs for afternoon. Then change back to uniform when you go home. So you change clothes 4 times every day. The Army dental corps is the only group that does this, even the doctors at the hospital just keep a uniform at work if they ever need it, which is rare. 


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

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



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.


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


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.