You don’t find many dental hygienists who can handle a rifle and identify enemy aircraft. Brenda is a unique member of the Future of Dentistry team because she’s also a veteran of the U.S. military.
Like many veterans, Brenda is modest about her service, so Veteran’s Day is the perfect time to recognize her time with the Army and National Guard.
On behalf of Dr. Casazza and the entire Future of Dentistry team, we’d like to thank Brenda for her service, and for sharing how she began her dental career.
Brenda became interested in dentistry soon after high school. She thought the military would provide an opportunity to learn in a hands-on way. Her plan was to train as a dental assistant and then as a hygienist.
She visited a recruiting office, scored well on the entry test, and became a Private upon enlistment. Her initial commitment to the Army was for four years.
Before her dental education could begin, Brenda had to make it through Basic Training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. Even civilians know that Basic Training is intense!
“They try to break you down and build you back up,” Brenda explains. “It shows you a different way of life.”
In addition to the PT (physical training), Brenda and the other recruits learned rifle marksmanship, grenade throwing, rappelling, and how to recognize different types of tanks and aircraft.
After Basic, Brenda began job training at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. The base is known for its large, world-class medical education campus.
The Army sets an aggressive pace for dental assistants compared to civilian schools. At the time, dental-assistant training was completed in about two months. The recruits were on duty from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., starting with a five-mile run in the morning — in Texas, in the summer heat.
Brenda learned things like anatomy and how to take an x-ray, but she also continued her non-dental training. The soldiers had to qualify with their rifles, operate generators and portable dental equipment, and set up tents where they’d perform dentistry in the field.
“It was like two different worlds,” she recalls.
Dentistry In The Field
After training, Brenda spent several years at a dental clinic at Fort Knox in Kentucky, helping to treat soldier patients. She was tested every year to demonstrate both physical fitness and proficiency at her job.
She also had to show her ability to perform in the field in certain scenarios. She assisted with fillings and extractions in a tent, with lights and equipment powered by generators. This type of experience is intense, but doable, Brenda says.
“They condition you so you know what to do if you’re in a war zone,” she explains.
When asked how these experiences prepared her for civilian dentistry, Brenda says she’s unlikely to lose her cool in a stressful situation because of her training.
Brenda always planned to leave the military after her four years were up. She was eager to move on to dental hygiene school and become a practicing hygienist in civilian life. She changed her mind, though, and after Fort Knox she was sent to Korea. She was promoted to the rank of Army Specialist.
Brenda spent a year at Camp Carroll in South Korea. She worked alongside both American and South Korean troops, doing a variety of office and administrative duties at the base’s dental facility.
The soldiers had to adjust to an intensely hot, humid climate where monsoons are common. The soldiers had to adjust to an intensely hot, humid climate where monsoons are common. Outside of the base, they observed that poverty and pollution were widespread.
“It was eye opening,” she says. “It made me appreciate the U.S. even more.”
Brenda has many positive memories of South Korea, however. She had friends at the base, and they were able to experience the country during their off hours. They visited a monastery, beaches and the DMZ. With her blond hair and green eyes, Brenda stood out, but she found the local residents extremely respectful to the U.S. troops.
By the time the year was up, Brenda was excited to come home. She is an only child, and she was especially eager to get home to her parents.
“In the airport when you go though customs, they say ‘welcome home,’ and all that relief hits you,” she recalls.
Stateside again, Brenda spent a year at a base in Georgia. She ran a supply center for a 100-chair dental clinic and on weekends worked as an assistant to an orthodontist who treated soldiers’ children who lived on the base.
When her commitment was up, Brenda decided to enlist in the Massachusetts National Guard. This allowed her to serve part-time while remaining in the civilian world the rest of the time.
She worked full-time as a dental assistant while going back to school. The National Guard helped her achieve her goal of becoming a dental hygienist, she points out.
The Gulf War took place during her time in the Guard. Brenda wasn’t deployed, although her unit was active. They conducted medical and dental clearances for the troops who were going to be deployed overseas. In addition to her duties in the dental field, she also administered hearing, eye and blood pressure tests.
Any Guardsman with dental pain or a dental infection was classified as Class 3, unable to fly. “In a war, anything like that flares right up,” Brenda explains.
A military report showed that, among troops who were deployed in the initial conflict but unable to fight, the majority were sidelined due to a dental issue. For the remainder of the war and the reconstruction period that followed, the National Guard used mobile dental clinics to resolve problems before the troops were deployed to the Middle East.
It was stressful to know that her unit could be deployed at any time, but Brenda was happy to help the National Guard during the Gulf War.
Two Decades Of Service
After 21 years in the military, Brenda was proud to have served. She loves her life as a civilian hygienist, but values the part of her life that was dedicated to serving in the military.
“I’m glad I gave to my country,” she says, “and I learned a lot and saw a lot.”