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It didnt take long for life in Afghanistan to become mind numbing. I lost track of what day of the week it was almost routinely. I joked with one of our Lieutenants that “every day in Afghanistan is Monday” -which was exactly what it felt like. That grumpy feeling that I have first thing Monday morning was how I felt pretty much all day every day. As the days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months my mood just got worse.

A good friend of mine started expressing concern about my change in attitude a few months into the deployment. I’m usually a pretty easy going guy, but I had developed a very short fuse and an unpredictable temper. I hid the temper well, but my anger was easy to see. Running and working out no longer helped relieve stress and I was quickly turning into what my two year old calls a “Grumpus.” My faith in God and my daily bible readings, which sustained me for years, no longer helped. I had lost my faith as well.

About two weeks before R&R I finally went and asked for help. I set up a discreet appointment at Behavioral Health and told the doc what was going on and how it scared me. I knew this wasn’t me. The doc reassured me that this was very common and diagnosed me with what he called “deployment mood disorder” and wrote me a prescription for some anti-depressants. I hesitated at first, but eventually agreed to try the meds.

The military has done a lot to remove the stigma around mental health and asking for help. But despite all of the official roadblocks removed, there still is some reproach among your peers. The stigma may not be as bad as it was five years ago, but it is still there. The perception remains that those who seek assistance from behavioral health are somehow weaker individuals and perhaps less trustworthy soldiers. I strongly disagree and have a feeling that a lot of officers discreetly made appointments to see a mental health specialist. Regardless, I was still embarrassed. I was worried that our pharmacy tech would mention to someone that he had dispensed anti-depressants to the dentist and that word on the FOB would get out. I even hid the medication in an old Motrin bottle so my buddies wouldn’t accidentally see me taking an anti-depressant.

I took the meds for about a two weeks. I saw a very rapid improvement in my mood which I was thankful for. However, I did not like the side effects and decided to stop taking the meds right before arriving home for R&R. I knew that if I could just get home and see my wife and son for just a few weeks then all of this anger and sadness would just fade away. I was right. The break at home was just what I needed and by the time I was headed back to Afghanistan I felt like a new man.

I managed to finish the final 6 months of the deployment without any more appointments at behavioral health. The knowledge that I had survived six months in Afghanistan and only had six more to go was enough motivation for me to hang in there. When my mood started getting bad again, I would just talk with some friends. Usually a good cigar and good conversation around the fire would be enough to fuel me for one more day.

And that is how the rest of the deployment went. One day at a time. One cigar at a time.

This post was written almost a year ago and describes 3 of the most emotionally difficult days of my deployment.  I waited for the right time to post this, but the time never came. I guess now is as good a time as ever. These events are how I recall them and were written immediately after they took place:

The other night at 0130 I was awakened to the loudspeaker announcement “ATTENTION ON THE FOB: ALL B POSITIVE BLOOD DONORS REPORT TO THE AID STATION IMMEDIATELY.”  Disoriented,  I sat up and waited to hear it again, as I couldn’t quite make out what the voice said. Sure enough, they wanted all B + personnel down there ASAP. I jumped out of bed, grabbed my weapon, and beat feet the 100 meters or so to the aid station not knowing what I was going to walk into.

There was already a handful of half-dressed, sleepy-eyed soldiers and contractors waiting. People were running around, clearing chairs, scurrying about. I asked someone what was going on: “IED, sir. 5 casualties. Three are heading to the OR right now.”  They needed five units of B positive apparently.

Within five minutes I was laying on a table with a garden hose in my arm draining me of my precious B+. I hoped that my blood would somehow work miracles on whoever it was that was so in desperate need of it not 20 feet away. A few minutes later we were done, a lab tech came and grabbed the bag and ran a couple of quick tests and took that tomato colored juice bag of blood next door to the operating room.

“First guys dead.” I heard a SGT say. “They’re prepping the next guy for surgery.”

I didn’t know whether my blood made it into the first or the second guy, but I like to think my hemoglobin carried some oxygen to another man’s tissues. I hoped my blood gave at least one of them a fighting chance.

For those who don’t know me, I don’t usually give blood. I am not opposed, I just don’t tolerate it well. Every time I donate blood I experience orthostatic hypotension when I stand up and if no one is around, I hit the floor. Hard. I guess that is something you don’t grow out of.

As expected, I got very pale apparently. Someone got me a chair and some water. I downed the water and grabbed some Ho-ho’s I had stashed in the fridge. I sat in the hall for a good five to ten minutes waiting to absorb some of the fluid I just drank. I watched as they wheeled the second guy into the OR. In my head I wished them the best. I wanted to stand up and help, but I knew I would pass out if I did.

0630 came a lot faster than I had hoped. I was exhausted. I had not gotten back to bed until after 0230. I made it to the clinic around 0750 and inquired about the patients from last night. Two out of three didn’t make it through surgery. The third survived and was in our ICU recovering.

This is the third or fourth time this has happened since I have been here. I was honored to be able to help by giving blood that went straight into the operating room but I wish there was no need for the blood.  Sadly though, this is becoming my world. This is where I live. This is the crap that goes down in my neighborhood.

PART II: The following evening I was waiting in my office for a friend. We were heading up to the roof to smoke some cigars. Out of nowhere one of the surgeons from the Forward Surgical Team pops her head in and says “Im glad I found you! We have a guy coming in with a gunshot wound to the jaw. Would you mind helping us out?”

I spent three hours that night in the operating room assisting a neck dissection on a young man who took several rounds to the head and neck region. One of these bullets went in through his left parotid gland and came out on his neck about three inches below his left ear. Another bullet appeared to enter just anterior to the sternocleidomastoid and exited the back of his neck. This is the luckiest man in the world as not one of those bullets hit an artery, nerve, or vein. Just muscle. We dissected all the way down past the carotid to the esophagus and trachea. Everything was intact.

I wasn’t used to standing for so long. I hadn’t eaten much that day and at one point the pulsing carotid  became too much for me. Beads of sweat starting forming on my forehead and I felt my face tingling. I knew I was about to pass out or vomit or both. So instead of hitting the floor in the OR I excused myself. One of the nurses gave me a soda and let me relax for a few minutes before scrubbing back in.

I helped close up his neck and I closed up his facial wound myself. He is going to need some grafting to replace this half-dollar size chunk of face that was gone, but other than that he will probably be fine. I never thought my life as a general dentist would take me into the operating room to help handle gunshot wounds. I guess I was wrong.

Part III: How much trauma is going to happen while I’m writing this post? It was 2400 last night. Almost exactly midnight by my watch. I heard the door to my hut fly open and our brigade nurse speaking firmly, yet seeming to try and be quiet at the same time. I couldn’t make out what she was saying.

“Whats going on?” I asked, disoriented.

“A Chinook just crashed with 24 people on board. We need everyone down at the aid station. Right now.”

“Are you f*cking kidding me?” I replied. I hoped this was another MASCAL drill.

“No. I’m not kidding. We need everyone down there right now.”

My heart just dropped. I felt sick to my stomach. I could not even imagine what this could mean.

I was still waking up and getting oriented as I ran down to the aid station. People were running around all over the place. The Forward Surgical Team was up and their doors were propped open so I knew this was no drill (as they don’t usually participate in our midnight training exercises).  I tried to get some info from our platoon sergeant. All I was able to determine was that a CH-47 Chinook helicopter had gone down with 24 soldiers on board. No status as to any survivors, but we were preparing to receive 24 casualties.

In the middle of the night we executed our plan for a Mass-Casualty Event (MASCAL) flawlessly. I was really impressed at how everyone came together. We had over 30 litter-bearers show up just to help carry people. During a MASCAL my job is to triage the patients as they bring them to us. For an hour I waited out front trying not to vomit thinking about the horror that could be dropped at my feet any moment. Thankfully at 0100 we sent everyone packing. The had taken the critically wounded to a closer surgical team and we would not be receiving any of the urgent or surgical patients. We received several of the crash victims throughout the night, but they were stabilized and not surgical patients. Thankfully, not a single person was killed in the crash, though there were some very serious injuries.

That all happened in the last 72 hours. I spent most of Sunday sleeping. I was just physically exhausted.

One of my bosses had this idea before we deployed to send me all over the AO to do “cleanings.” In his office one afternoon, he explained to me that he understood how important that prevention stuff was and that this was his solution to how I would manage the brigade’s dental care during the deployment. “Anyway, that’s what our dentist did in Iraq” he said.

I immediately began repeatedly banging my head on his desk.

No, no I didn’t. But strangely that was my first instinct.

What really happened was a polite and respectful conversation in which I explained to him my concerns with his plan. But he was the commander and I was just his dentist. What did I know about effectively delivering dental care? My job was to do what I was told. I left his office that afternoon with a knot in my stomach and a headache. I did not want to spend a year in Afghanistan polishing tobacco stains off of teeth.

Fast forward about twelve months. There we were in Afghanistan and the impossibility of sending me out to perform dental hygiene on thousands of soldiers was finally apparent. However, in an attempt to show support for our Soldiers we came up with a compromise. My idea was to travel around to as many small FOBs, COPs, and OPs as I could with cases of fluoride varnish. I would fly out on a helicopter to some small outpost and just paint fluoride on the teeth of anyone who was willing. Unlike cleanings, this required minimal equipment and would actually be a way to quickly affect many soldiers in a short time and actually prevent dental decay. This plan also freed me up to do consultations with soldiers, medics, and the PAs while my dental tech administered the fluoride treatments.

We traveled on quite a few missions throughout the year. Some days I would leave in the morning and come back at night. Some times we would be out for days. At times, we had some very interesting experiences.

One particular trip took us to a small Combat Outpost up in the Pesh River Valley called “Honaker-Miracle.” This COP was named after two soldiers, Specialist Christopher Honaker and Pfc. Joseph Miracle, who were killed in 2007.  This base was at the bottom of a steep valley and was prone to mortar and sniper attacks. We arrived late at night on a UH-60 Blackhawk. A small element from the base operations cell was there to greet us and give us a quick situation report on the security of the area. The situation up there wasn’t very friendly.

Being one of the highest ranking officers on the COP that week, they put me in what they called the VIP suite. It was mostly a joke, but they had mints on the mattresses and had printed up a brochure for the VIP room that satirically welcomed visitors to their “Gated Community.” Their brochure offered amenities that included:

  • 24 hour security
  • Nightly fireworks
  • Spectacular views
  • Gun ranges
  • Free meals (prepared by our trained and certified culinary experts)

The VIP Suite at COP Honaker-Miracle

We settled in for the evening with the hope of seeing 50-60 soldiers the following day for fluoride. I actually got a great night’s sleep and woke up to some truly spectacular views of the Hindu Kush mountains. Around 8:30 in the morning we started taking sniper fire from up on a hill. The echo from the valley made each round sound like it was being fired from twenty feet away. Because of the sniper everyone had to stay inside as much as possible and wear full “battle rattle” when moving outdoors – helmet, body armor, and weapon.  If you needed to relieve yourself, you had to run in a dead sprint to the latrines and hope for the best.

Not surprisingly, we didn’t get too many soldiers willing to risk their life to come see the dentist that day. We spent the morning hanging out and watching movies in the aid station with the PA and the unit medics. We could hear the sniper firing outside all day. He would pop off a few rounds here and there at some unlucky soldier trying to run to the bathroom or go get some chow. No one was particularly bothered by this as it was a pretty normal event for that base.

Sometime after lunch an alarm went off alerting everyone on the COP that there was a casualty on the base: someone had been shot. Everyone in the aid station started preparing to receive a wounded soldier. My assistant and I picked up our gear and moved it out of the way. The aid station was very small, only holding a couple of desks and two litters on litter stands. The last thing they needed was a bunch of fluoride varnish and dental supplies all over the place.

Only a few moments later the back door came flying open and a large soldier came lumbering down the hall. His buddies followed quickly behind him and tried to explain what happened: he was outside trying to go get some laundry when he got hit.

The medics quickly but calmly hoisted him on a litter and began cutting off his uniform so they could inspect the wound. A small amount of blood was noticeable on his sleeve. Once exposed, a wound was visible on the lateral and medial surface of his left bicep. There was minimal bleeding and no swelling. The patient wasn’t feeling much pain thanks to all the adrenaline and was surprisingly very calm and cooperative. The PA did a thorough examination and determined that the round had passed through only muscle and had done so cleanly. There was no damage to any major blood vessel, nerve, or artery. The pulse in his hand was strong. They debated about calling a MEDEVAC helicopter to take him to the surgical team for an evaluation, but opted to observe him there instead. The risk of having a helicopter shot down was greater than the risk of this particular injury.

The medics cleaned and bandaged the wound, then wrapped an ice pack on top. They gave him some pain medications and assured him he would be fine in a few weeks. Members of the soldier’s chain of command were there very quickly with instructions to the patient: Call home, tell your family what happened and tell them that you are okay. Then they immediately started the paperwork for his Purple Heart.

After a few minutes things started calming down. I struck up a conversation with the recently wounded soldier. I told him who I was and what we had come there to do. He was surprised that a dentist was there. I asked him if my tech could put some fluoride varnish on his teeth while he was here. He agreed, and he agreed to let me photograph him.

Combat Dentistry: Taking dental to the tip of the spear

Later in the afternoon as the sun began to set, the sniper lost his ability to see his targets and he retired for the evening. The soldiers at COP Honaker-Miracle did not take the snipers attack without fighting back. They returned fire when they could and they mortared the area where they knew he was hiding. As the rounds landed on the side of the mountain some of the dry brush caught fire, gently illuminating the mountainside as the sun set over their tops.

There are not a lot of times in an Army dentist’s career when he has the opportunity to come so close to the enemy. For the most part, even when deployed, dentists rarely leave their post at the dental clinic. It is even rarer for us to travel so far forward to such a small outpost. Our experience in war is usually limited to treating dental patients in some cozy clinic all day long. I consider it a great honor that my unit wanted and allowed me to deliver dental care to the Soldiers out there who actually do the fighting in this war. As much as those Soldiers appreciated my visit, I appreciated my time with them much more.

Chapter 2: Life on the FOB

Posted: September 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

Once all the dust from the journey settled, most of us quickly moved into a routine of work, sleep, work. The army calls this a “Battle Rhythm.” My clinic was small and the job required me to run dental “sick call” twice a day, six days a week. Soldiers would fly in from smaller outlying outposts with every dental emergency one could imagine. Sunday was officially my day of rest. I would not see routine sick call patients but was on call for true dental emergencies – trauma, swelling, and acute infections only. Having Sundays as a down day allowed me to handle administrative tasks, reset the clinic, go to meetings, and gave me some flexibility with traveling to other locations. At first some people grumbled that the clinic wasn’t open on Sundays, but when I explained my reasoning most people understood.

Our FOB was pretty big -about 4 miles around the perimeter. We had a very busy runway that supported all sorts of fixed and rotary wing operations for the area. To my surprise, there were quite a few creature comforts on the base. We had two gyms, a large dining facility that was open 24 hours a day, two barber shops, a coffee shop, and a couple of little stores where you could buy small items and tobacco. Alcohol is prohibited, but you could buy non alcoholic beer at the PX for those special occasions.

Life on the FOB and its associated battle rhythm got old fast. At least six days a week I did the exact same thing from dawn to dusk. A typical day for me looked like this:

  • 0630: Wake up, clean up
  • 0645-0730: Make French press coffee in my room.
  • 0730-0800: Breakfast in the DFAC
  • 0800-1200: Sick call in the clinic.
  • 1200-1300: Lunch
  • 1300-1500: Afternoon sick call.
  • 1500-1630: Run, Gym, Shower
  • 1630-1800: Whatever
  • 1800-1900: Dinner
  • 1900-1930: Call home
  • 1930-2100: Smoke cigar and watch movies with the guys. Sit around a fire if it was cold.
  • 2100-2230: Whatever Part II
  • 2230: Go to bed
  • 2230-2330: Try to ignore my loud neighbor on Skype

That list was pretty detailed because I did pretty much the exact same thing every day for a year. Deviations from this routine were pretty rare unless I was traveling to another FOB. Sundays I would usually sleep in until 0730 then some variation of this routine would unravel.

In the afternoons my friend Jon and I would usually go for a run around the airfield. It was exactly 3.5 miles around the runway which made the perfect route for several 5K and 10K races. The FOB commander insisted we run with a battle buddy so we wouldn’t get sexually assaulted. I’m not kidding. The side we lived on was 95% NATO and coalition forces. On the other side were some Afghan National Army bases and a couple of off-limits compounds inhabited by guys with very high security clearances. Runs around the airfield would take us within very close proximity to the ANA soldiers which always heightened the pucker factor, especially after the increase in “green on blue” incidents. They were always armed with AK-47s and stared at us as we ran by. Occasionally they would yell something in Dari or Pashto at us. All we had were our legs and the hope we could outrun them if they were looking for a fight…or worse.

Guljan and his Carpet Palace

Next to the small PX we had were a series of plywood huts known as the “Haji shops.” These were local vendors who had little stores where you could buy rugs, rip-off electronics, and all sorts of other knock off contraband from India or Pakistan. The rugs were beautiful and Haji Guljan assured me that all the rugs in his Carpet Palace were handmade in Mazar-e-sharif or Iran. I wound up spending close to $1,400 on some of his rugs, after a week of negotiations course.

The movie shops sold these rip off copies of the latest movies back in the states. Two or three days after a movie came out, we would have it in our Haji shops. New releases usually had Russian subtitles, but we could watch it before most people saw it back home. The quality was pretty crappy, but when you watch it on a tiny computer screen it looks pretty good.

The worst part about life on the FOB was that there was no getting away. I was technically at work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I was the only dentist and they always seemed to be able to find me whenever anyone needed a toothbrush. Since I was the only dentist, I could never turn my mind off. There wasn’t another guy to cover a shift for me so I could go for a run and not worry they were going to come get me. On several runs a golf cart showed up with one of my assistants summoning me back to the clinic. Every time I went anywhere, I knew that if any dental emergency arose I would have to answer the call.

That was the most stressful part of the job: never being off call. The stress kept building and building for almost six months until R&R. When my temporary replacement finally arrived to cover the clinic before I left for R&R,  I could almost feel a physical weight lifted from my back.

FOB Fenty / Jalalabad Air Field

It’s not easy deploying an infantry brigade to Afghanistan from Hawaii. Just getting there required a multi legged trip that turned into the most convoluted journey I have ever been on. In my mind, the logical route would have been to head west to Japan or Korea. From there one could easily fly over into Russia then down into Afghanistan. Quick and easy. Instead, we flew north from Hawaii to Alaska. From Alaska we flew up over the north pole to Germany.  Then we flew over Europe to Kyrgyzstan where we arrived at Manas Air Transit Base. Needless to say, it took several days just to get to Kyrgyzstan.

Chapel-tent at Manas in Kyrgyzstan

We flew out of Manas on an Air Force C-17 after several relaxing days enjoying Air Force facilities. When we crossed into Afghan airspace the crew chief made everyone put on their body armor and helmet. That was pretty disconcerting. After about 90 minutes in the air we landed at Bagram Air Field. As we all descended down the ramp out of the back of the aircraft we were met by a gorgeous view of snow-capped mountains. It was raining and cold. It was not at all what I had expected of Afghanistan in April.

For those who haven’t visited, BAF is a complete dump and there are entire websites dedicated to humorously showing love for its peculiarities.  Most guys in my unit would up spending almost a week there living like homeless refugees in overcrowded flooded tents. I got lucky and wound up catching a flight out of there after only a few hours, skipping two days worth of “vehicle roll over” training.

About five days after leaving Hawaii I finally arrived in Jalalabad via a “combat landing” in a C-130.  For those who aren’t familiar with a combat landing, it’s when the pilots decide to go from being in the air to being parked on the ground in about thirty seconds. Its fun. Our plane actually landed at JAF/FOB Fenty around 2200. I will never forget my first look at FOB Fenty. I was standing under the tail of a C-130, it was pitch black and the only lights I could see were from across the runway where the main part of the base was.  I was hot, sweaty, and smelly. The smell of jet fuel and burning wood filled my nostrils. Dust and dirt being churned up by the propellers stung my face.  I looked out across the runway and thought: so this is my new home for a year? I couldn’t make out any buildings, just lights from windows. It looked like anywhere and nowhere at the same time.

They herded all of us together and walked us single file across the runway for accountability. My XO, who had arrived several weeks earlier, was there to meet us. She took us to the Company Command Post (CP) and had us sign in and account for our weapons. Then they took me to my room. I was pretty tired when I arrived but I had the hardest time sleeping well that first night.

I spent the year living in a one story cinderblock building. Each building had a couple of hallways with 8 rooms made of plywood. The walls went about 8 feet up but the ceilings were about 10 feet tall.  The beds were mattresses on plywood racks up high with a little desk below.  The guy I replaced basically got thrown out as soon as they heard I was coming and I believe he wound up sleeping on a filthy cot in the hallway the first night I was there.

My first morning in Jalalabad was an exciting one. I woke up disoriented and exhausted from lack of sleep. I took a much-needed shower, grabbed some food and then made my way down to the clinic. The dental clinic at JAF is close to the flight line and was two buildings down from where I lived. In the same building we had a surgical team with two operating rooms, a small physical therapy clinic, pharmacy, patient hold area, and admin area.

As I was walking out of my building I saw a lot of commotion by the clinic. People were running around. Golfcart-like vehicles called “Gators” were zipping back and forth. I picked up my pace a little bit and asked someone what was going on.

Entrance to our clinic and the surgical team

A suicide bomber had walked onto a nearby FOB and killed eight or nine individuals – mostly Afghans if my memory serves me right, and wounded several American servicemen and one civilian contractor.  I remember seeing the MEDEVAC birds coming in for the very first time and watching as the survivors of the attack were brought to our medical facility for treatment. I went down to the flight line and helped carry some of the wounded off of the helicopters. I remember the smell of blood throughout the clinic, followed later by the unforgettable odor of the disinfectant they use to mop the floor after it gets soaked with blood. I remember the look of exhaustion on the faces of the wounded and the slow defeated way they walked. There were several patients that had to be carried in that day, but I can’t remember them distinctly now as they just blend with all the others we carried in that year after them.

Those first few days were a rapid orientation to what was going to become my world for the next twelve months. By the time our year there ended, 20 soldiers from my brigade had been killed in action and dozens more from our supporting units had lost their lives as well.

E Quad: Zero Dark Thirty

The hardest part of the deployment was saying goodbye to my wife and 15 month old son. The emotions I felt the morning I left were not of pride and excitement but of dread, regret, and overwhelming heartache. It took several weeks to get the entire brigade out of Hawaii and into Afghanistan. We left in groups called “chalks” at all hours of the day. Thankfully I had some family there to see and help me off.

My parents had flown in to say goodbye and my mother in law was there to help ensure my wife and son got back home safely. We had decided that since we had no family on the island, it was in our best interest to put our belongings in storage and fly M&G back home to spend the year with friends and family on the east coast. So on top of saying good-bye, we had to pack all of our stuff up and move out of a house. According to my wife, the hardest part of that was the days after I left when she had to accomplish the final tasks of that without my help…

We had rented a beach house on the north shore the week before I left to allow us a place to rest and relax after making the final arrangements for our departure. No one really knew when their chalk was leaving until a few hours before. When my number was up, I wound up having to report for accountability formation at 0200 (see photo of miserable guy above).

Soaking up the last of Hawaii with my boy

The night before I left I spent the evening with my little boy playing in the yard and in the hot-tub. I didn’t sleep well at all that night. I knew I needed rest so I tried to force myself to bed around 8PM. We just laid there all night. I tossed and turned until my alarm went off around midnight. I woke up, showered, and put on my uniform.

I went into my son’s bedroom and picked him up and held him for a few minutes. I kissed him goodbye, not knowing for sure if I would ever see him again. Up to that point in my life, that was the hardest thing I had ever done. I was overwhelmed with nausea, fear, and anxiety. I felt like throwing up. My family woke up with me and I said goodbye to my mom and mother-in-law there at the house. We all teared up, but it was short and sweet. My dad helped me load my gear into my car and my wife, my dad, and I drove in almost complete silence the 30 minutes to Schofield Barracks. I held my wife’s hand the entire way.

We stood there for about an hour talking. After a point, I realized we should say our goodbyes while we had the privacy. I hugged my dad, said goodbye, and asked him to give me a few minutes alone with my wife.

M and I hugged and cried for several minutes together. We kissed good-bye for the last time for what would be six months.

And then they were gone. And I was all alone with the other guys from my unit. Guns, gear, and sadness everywhere. The reality of the separation was quickly becoming real and the six months in front of me before I would be home again seemed like an eternity.

I have been thinking back a lot recently to my time in Afghanistan. I kept a journal that I wrote in every day and I also wrote several longer descriptors of several significant events throughout the year. At the time, I thought that I would never forget the details of that year. Going back and re-reading what I wrote made me realize I have already forgotten a lot of the details.

So I am hoping to begin telling some of the more interesting stories from my deployment. Some of them are funny, some of them are pretty messed up, all of them are worth sharing.

The plan is to work chronologically starting with my first few days in Jalalabad in April of 2011…

A Few Good Dentists…

Posted: August 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

ImageSon, we live in a world that needs dental care, and this military dental care needs to be done by people with knowledge. Who’s gonna do it, you? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for dental readiness ratings and you curse The Army’s Dental Corps health care System. You have that luxury; you have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Non-Mission Capable Soldier, while tragic, is probably the result of poor training and abuse; and my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you…helps make dental clinics run and soldiers shoot! You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about; at tactical briefings, you want me in your AO; you NEED me in your AO! We use words like MRC, MEDPROS, BSC, SOHAC, PHA, CDA, Readiness Class1 & 2, and Deployability and ADDP… We use these words as the backbone of a life spent supporting Combat Arms Units; you use them as a punch line! I have neither the time, nor the inclination to explain myself to a person who uses his personnel with the very support I provide, AND THEN QUESTIONS THE MANNER IN WHICH I PROVIDE IT! I would rather you just said thank you and went on your way; otherwise I suggest you take care of your own dental readiness. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!

While unpacking my household goods from my most recent Permanent Change of Station (PCS), I came across part of an old presentation I gave in the Officer Basic Course on the History of Army Dentistry.

I noted some interesting statistics about the US Army Dental Corps and the wartime service of its dentists.

During WWII there were 15,292 dental officers on active duty in the US Army. 20 were Killed in Action, 5 more succumbed to wounds received in contact. 10 died in captivity. 81 died of disease and non-battle injuries. One dentist, CPT Benjamin Salomon was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.  That brings the total number of Army dentists who died while fighting overseas in WWII to 116.

In the Korean war there were 2,641 dental officers of whom 370 served in conflict. 2 were KIA, 2 were Missing In Action of which one was declared dead.

During the conflict in Vietnam there were 2,817 dental officers. 290 were in Vietnam at any given time. 4 dentists were killed and 4 dental assistants were killed.

Currently the US Army Dental Corps has about 1,000 dental officers. I have no idea how many have served in the Global War on Terror in Iraq or Afghanistan, but none has died. One dental assistant was killed in Iraq when the helicopter he was riding in made an emergency water landing.

Well, mine sit unworn in a closet somewhere. But the majority of the soldiers just threw them in the trash. Throwing them in the trash = giving them to the trash guys. At least someone gets some use out of them. Image