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Supporting the mission by providing dental services

  • Published
  • By Col. Steven Bartel
  • 375th Dental Squadron Commander
I have always been a pilot "wanna be" and thrilled to be around aircraft and flight. As such, a career in the Air Force and its mission has been a good fit. It affords me a good deal of time to be around or near flightlines to watch the varied Air Force airframes taking off to or landing from a myriad of places and missions that I am not privy to. I wonder where these planes have been and where are they going. Was or is this a trip into harms way somewhere in the world, delivering a special cargo, a local training flight or some other special tasking? I will most likely never know, nor do I need to know. What I do know is the overall mission, and I know my part.

I am a dentist in the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force has put a premium on health, and a part of that health is dental health. The Air Force understands that pilots, crew members and passengers cannot be in an aircraft flying to or from anywhere and/or deploying for extended periods of time without being "dentally healthy." That is why the Air Force enforces a dental classification system, to assure that all of its members have exams with required treatments at least once a year. This system allows the Air Force dentist to monitor and treat its active duty population so that those in the planes can be guaranteed dental health and freedom from pain. This allows Air Force members to go on their missions anywhere and at any time. I treat the dental needs of our people so that they can be in those planes. That is my part.

Those members in the plane also need the rest of the Air Force to support those flights. The planes cannot be in the air and complete their missions without the other base personnel to support them. This includes the maintenance specialists, the weathermen, CE, security forces, support personnel and on and on. These Airmen on the ground need to be "dentally healthy" as well, so that they may in turn support the members to proceed with their flights. I also guarantee the dental health of those folks on the ground so that the planes be in the air. That is my part.

To meet the dental needs of those whom I treat, again so that the missions go forward, require me to be up on the latest knowledge and techniques. This requires me to be both current and competent in my skills. For me, it necessitates the constant pursuit to acquire both training and information. That is my part.

Sometimes, I have the opportunity to be on those planes. For those times, I need to be ever ready. I need to stay medically and dentally healthy just as well as my contemporaries and peers. I need to maintain a healthy lifestyle and pursue fitness. I also must stay fit operationally and militarily. I need to stay up to date on military education, standards and policies. That is my part.

As a squadron commander and as a leader, I must make sure our members understand their need to be ready to be in the planes as well. I must also make them understand the larger picture and their roles in making the planes that they see, able to fly at any time. I must help make them understand their part. That is my part.

I will continue to watch the planes and wonder. I still won't know where they have been or where they are going, but I know they would not be going if I had not understood and done my part. That is a mission within itself. That is the base from which each day begins. That is my part and that is our part.