CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq --
The sailors of 2nd Dental Company, 2nd Combat Logistics Battalion based in western Iraq have been working non-stop throughout the month of January to ensure the dental health of the Reserve Marines and sailors here.
Second Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 8, is a Marine Forces Reserve battalion headquartered in Garden City, N.Y., and arrived in Iraq’s western Al Anbar province in September for a seven-month deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“One hundred and sixteen dental exams in a day. That may be a world record,” joked U.S. Navy Cmdr. Dennis McKenna, the battalion surgeon, referring to the dental team’s accomplishment in early January when they performed exams from sun-up to sun-down on Marine Corps and Navy personnel at one of the battalion’s most remote outposts.
A U.S. Navy Reservist with about 20 years of military service, McKenna, 42, is an emergency medicine physician at Albany Medical Center in his civilian career.
“Dental exams are important for two reasons,” explained McKenna, who hails from Selkirk, N.Y. “First, they ensure good dental health, which is an important part of overall health and therefore critical to current operations. Second, they are important from a demobilization standpoint. According to regulations, they [Marines and sailors] have to be dental class one or two in order to demobilize.”
As 2/25 nears the end of its deployment, the unit’s leadership is making plans for demobilizing the battalion after the troops arrive back at their home training centers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
McKenna is responsible for ensuring that the reservists are in good health before they return to their civilian lives and careers. He explained that there are four classes of dental readiness.
A service member who has not received a dental exam in over a year is class four. Someone with dental disease that requires treatment within a six-month period is considered class three. An example would be partially impacted wisdom teeth.
Those with minor dental problems, such as small cavities or in need of a routine dental cleaning are class two. Class one describes those who have no dental disease and have received a cleaning in the past six months.
U.S. Navy Lt. John P. Walsh, a dentist and officer-in-charge of Dental Detachment 08-02, has personally performed more than 500 dental exams on the Marines and sailors of 2/25 over the past month in order to get as many troops as possible into class two.
“Field dentistry has had a big learning curve,” said Walsh, who explained that when he arrived here in August, dental care was limited only to emergencies, and many of those who required routine dental care had to wait until their condition worsened, or until they took a break from operations to travel to a larger military installation with a dental clinic.
“The field dental units and the operation of these units constitute a different brand of dentistry,” said Walsh, a Hatfield, Pa. native. “At Camp Korean Village we use a mobile Dental Field Treatment and Operating System unit which is not as efficient as a standing ‘operatory’ unit like you’d find in a clinic back home.”
Walsh explained that despite the logistical challenges posed by operating in an expeditionary environment, he and his team of two dental assistants have persevered, using light-emitting diode headlamps to compensate for poor lighting and seating patients in a portable dental examination seat which he described as “similar to a folding beach chair.”
Walsh’s crew often works up to ten or 12 hours a day to ensure the dental health of the Marines and sailors aboard the base and at remote combat outposts.
“We are allowing our Marines the ability to work and perform their duty without running the risk of a dental infection or pain caused by dental disease. We are also saving our reservist’s time and money upon their return home,” added Walsh.
Walsh’s patients understand and appreciate his team’s work out here in their austere facility on the western fringes of Al Anbar’s desert.
“This dental care is a great opportunity for reservists to take advantage of while on mobilization orders, said Lance Cpl. Sam Genovese, 24, an operations clerk from Plymouth, Mass on his first tour in Iraq with Headquarters and Service Company, 2/25.
Genovese explained that the medical benefits he has received as a reservist helped him out last year when he had a broken molar that he could not afford to have fixed due to “the astronomical cost of dentists in Massachusetts.”
Like many Reserve Marines, the company Genovese worked for in his civilian career did not provide affordable dental insurance.
“Ninety days out from mobilization my Tricare benefits kicked in, and the military paid for me to have the work done,” said Genovese. “I also got my wisdom teeth out. It was great.”
Walsh and his team of two sailors do everything from routine exams and cleanings to drilling and filling cavities in the field dental clinic which they’ve set up in a plywood hut at Camp Korean Village.
Lance Cpl. Elvis Capellan, a 22-year-old mortarman with Mobile Assault Platoon 3, Weapons Company, 2/25, travels periodically from his home in New York City to the Dominican Republic where his aunt is a dentist. As a full-time student, he does not have dental insurance and it is more economically feasible for him to fly overseas for his dental work while visiting family than to go to a dentist in New York City. This is his first tour in Iraq.
Walsh filled three cavities for Capellan on Jan. 20 and replaced a loose crown; a job that Walsh said would have cost at least a thousand dollars back in the States.
As the Marines and sailors of 2/25 close in on the final months of their deployment, they won’t have to worry about dental problems or dental bills.
Instead, thanks to Walsh and his team of committed sailors, the infantrymen can focus all attention on their upcoming mission of providing support to Iraqi Security Forces in ensuring the conduct of peaceful and democratic national election process at the end of January.