FEBRUARY 4, 2010
SOLDIERS OVERCOME CHALLENGES IN IRAQ TO PROVIDE BEST AVAILABLE DENTAL CARE
Spc. Samantha Shipley
For most dental specialists, the day begins with a walk into their pristine dental facility to begin laying out their tools for a scheduled day of cleanings and other run-of-the-mill appointments. But for the men and women of the Army's 502nd Dental Company currently deployed to Iraq, each day brings new challenges in an ever changing environment.
Spc. Samantha Shipley and Spc. Austin Williams of the 502nd are currently serving as Dental Specialists in Mosul, Iraq and Basra, Iraq respectively. The Soldiers are responsible for providing dental care for their fellow Soldiers, along with the civilian contractors and Iraqi nationals working on their Forward Operating Bases.
The two assist with a variety of dental cases, ranging from the standard removal of wisdom teeth to the treatment of Soldiers who have suffered combat injuries in the field.
Williams explained, "My most rewarding experience was suturing up a fellow Soldier's lip after he was hit with a Sprite bottle of cement."
The Soldier had been out on a mission, when his convoy stopped he got out of the vehicle and was attacked, suffering severe injuries after a blow to the face with the soda bottle of cement. The Soldier was immediately taken to the base.
"When he arrived, he was rushed back to the dental chair, where we sutured his lip back together, took x-rays, and got the Soldier out of pain," Williams said. "This experience wasn't the normal because it was a sick call procedure where you really could see the Soldier in pain and you had to react quickly."
"Since I have been deployed, I have seen three patients with a whole tooth that was knocked out," Shipley added. "One was a Soldier who was on a mission. His armored vehicle hit a rock causing him to hit his mouth on his M249 Rifle."
Shipley and Williams', both young dental specialists, have used their time in Iraq to fine tune their skills. The Soldiers view each case as a learning opportunity to better understand how to treat various dental problems and traumas.
"Being in Iraq, we don't have and are not able to get everything some dentists are used to using and you have to be ready for anything," Shipley said.
Given the situation, the Soldiers have learned to improvise when it comes to the equipment they select to conduct procedures, understanding that certain tools can be used for several purposes. It requires the Soldiers to think on their feet sometimes.
"We have been in the middle of a procedure and the power had gone out. I grabbed a flash light and my doctor didn't miss a step. We kept working and finally the lights came back on," Shipley explained.
Having to work under various conditions and overcome unique challenges has taught Shipley and Williams the importance of flexibility and prepared them to react to any situation, skills that have made the Soldiers more proficient dental specialists.
"Working in Iraq has definitely made me more flexible and I have learned what can substitute for what in a dental clinic," Shipley stated.
"I believe my most rewarding experience has been when a Sgt. Maj. or a local civilian has thanked me from the bottom of their heart for the care that was given to their Soldiers or their people or themselves," Shipley said. "Knowing that I helped someone get out of pain or just made them feel better about themselves is always a great experience."
When Shipley and Williams return to the U.S., the insights they have garnered from their deployment will place them in a position to provide the best possible dental care to their comrades preparing to serve overseas.
"This deployment has opened my eyes on the quality of care I will be giving when I return," Williams said. "I just will be more in-depth. I will double check with the patient to make sure he doesn't have any issues that will cause pain while deployed."
Shipley and Williams will return home in June 2010 to Jackson, Miss., and St. Petersburg, Fla., respectively.
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