Story by Douglas Stutz on 08/22/2019It was just six years after being established in 1912 that the U.S. Navy Dental Corps proved its mettle on the bloody battlefields of France during the First World War.
Their enduring tradition of mission readiness, fleet support, and commitment to care was acknowledged during the Dental Corps 107th birthday at Naval Hospital Bremerton's (NHB) Branch Health Clinic (BHC) Bangor on Aug. 22, 2019.
"It's really important to gather and reflect on the corps' history that goes back before World War One. It's incredible how over the years the Dental Corps has factored in keeping our warfighters ready. The Dental Corps also brings a lot to the fight, being trained to triage in mass casualty situations and other scenarios," said Capt. Shannon J. Johnson, NHB commanding officer
According to Cmdr. Walter Volinski, Senior Dental Executive, adding the Dental Corps - initially comprised of 30 dental surgeon assistants to Navy Medicine allowed the Navy to enhance recruiting of Sailors and Marines who would have otherwise been rejected due to dental treatment needs.
"Today, with over 1,300 active duty and reserve members, the Dental Corps continues to ensure high operational readiness for our Sailors, Marines, and their families. They serve Sailors and Marines ashore, on the battlefield, and aboard ships, performing medical duties beyond the scope of typical dental practice. Through the annual Navy humanitarian missions, such as Continuing Promise and Pacific Partnership, as well as deployed mobile units used in fleet support areas and on the battlefield, we are truly capable of providing world-class dental care, anytime, anywhere," said Volinski.
That world-class dental care is readily noted by NHB's Dental Services high Operational Dental Readiness (ODR) at 97.16 percent, for approximately 10,000 fleet and shore based personnel stationed in the Pacific Northwest. ODR provides a measure of a command's dental health and readiness. Military doctrine requires rapid response and periods of prolonged sustainment of deployed forces. Untreated oral disease may result in pain and infection that impairs individual performance and unit operational effectiveness.
ODR has been, and continues to be, an integral component of combat readiness, and NHB's 17 active duty officers along with 23 active duty enlisted, two civil service dentists, 10 civil service dental assistants, as well as 13 contract dental assistants and nine contract dental hygienists, are responsible for ensuring that all Sailors and Marines assigned to their respective commands in the third largest fleet concentration area that is Puget Sound are fit for current and future readiness.
The legacy of Dental Corps and dental hygienists and dental technicians - has also been shown in their direct combat support on the fields of battle.
It was during the German offensive in 1918 that was pushing British and French forces back that Dental Corps officer Lt. Cmdr. Alexander G. Lyle was recognized for his work and heroism.
On April 23, 2018, Lyle was serving in a unit with the 5th Marines on the French frontlines which came under heavy shellfire. He rushed to the assistance of Corporal Thomas Regan, who was seriously wounded, and according to his Medal of Honor citation,"administered such effective surgical assistance while the bombardment was still continuing," to save the life of the young Marine.
Less than two months later in early June, Lt. j.g. Weedon E. Osborne, assigned to the 6th Marines as a dental surgeon, was helping to stem the German advance on Paris, only 40 miles away, near a then little-known forested area at that time called Belleau Wood.
Osborne's regiment had reached the front lines on June 1 just as the German troops were capturing the small village of Bouresches. When the Marines arrived the French were falling back to re-establish a new defensive line, but the Marines' arrival was instrumental in halting the German advance. On June 6, the Marines took to the offense, charging at the Germans and sustaining more than a thousand casualties that day. Osborne was rescuing wounded on the battlefield. Yet while transporting Capt. Donald Duncan out of harm's way, an artillery shell exploded killing them both. For his extremely courageous' efforts while under fire, Osborne received the posthumous Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross.
During the Second World War, the ranks swelled to 7,000 dentists to care for all the troops needs. In the Korean War and Vietnam War dentists were engaged in providing support during Marine ground and air combat operations.
The Dental Corps also helped provide emergency aid during the 1983 Beirut Barracks Bombing and on Sept. 11, 2001 when five Dental Corps officers rendered immediate aid to those in need after the Pentagon was hit.
Dental Corps members also deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and have continued to expand their involvement in fleet-wide operations helping to maintain high operational readiness.
The NHB Dental Services Directorate consists of three main dental clinics located at BHC Bangor, BHC Everett, and Naval Hospital Bremerton, and one satellite annex located at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard with approximately 75 staff members assigned overall.
BHC Bangor handles the oral care of military service members to prevent or remedy diseases, disabilities and injuries of the teeth, jaw and related structures that may interfere with performance of military duty. Emergency treatments to relieve pain, control infection, and/or repair trauma for any person are top priorities. The staff also strives to ensure every military member has an annual dental exam and twice-a-year cleaning to reduce the risk of oral disease.
A brief snapshot from last calendar year 2018 of BHC Bangor's Dental Clinic shows that there were 81,211 dental procedures performed, 20,164 dental patient encounters, and 16,425 dental lab procedures.
"I wish to extend a very happy 107th birthday to our Dental Corps staff. The Dental Corps has delivered for those in need for over a century, and the Corps continues to play a critical role in our National Security mission. From the First World War to current operations, the Dental Corps has continued to maintain a high operational readiness and focus on disease prevention. Our Dentists have ensured the operational readiness and access to care for our fighting forces. I want to thank each of you for all you do to keep our warfighters ready to do their jobs when called upon," shared Johnson.