Story by Pfc. Fabian Ortega
Photo by Spc. James J. Truitt
13th COSCOM Public Affairs Office
Train as you fight is the fundamental principle upon which all training is based and it's the attitude the 502nd Dental Company (Area Support) adopted when it launched a field training exercise here March 28 through April 1.
The 502nd set up clinics to treat patients and gain practical experience working with instruments used in the field in preparation for deployment to Iraq, which is slated for October.
The clinics were enclosed in tents and generators supplied the power for the equipment.
Patients came in and were seen by appointment. The Soldiers of the 502nd gave x-rays, exams and cleanings. They treated 15-18 patients daily.
Soldiers who were treated at the clinics were pleased to see how well organized the facility was.
"They had a nice set up and they did a good job. I haven't been to a dental clinic, but I think they did just as good as they would have done in a regular clinic," said Pvt. Andrea Adams, of the 74th Engineering Battalion, Multi Role Bridge Company.
Pvt. Francis Danielle, of the 74th MRBC agreed, "It's really cool to see them at work and doing it in the field and not in the office. It's also cool to see the tools they use. It's been an experience, the staff made it very easy. I had my teeth cleaned, an x-ray, and a check done, I came out here and they gave me the whole nine yards."
Those were results the 502nd anticipated in October 2004, when the field training exercise was in its planning stages.
The idea and intent was to serve the troops and try to make the clinics feel as close to home as possible, said Lt. Col. James Houston, the 502nd commander.
"I think our training went smooth and relatively well," said Houston.
The 502nd has endured a major overhaul in personnel. The unit consists of 64 personnel, of which 25 percent are new soldiers just having completed advanced individual training, and 26 provost officers.
"We've had a 50 percent personnel changeover since returning from Iraq in March 2003," said Houston.
Many of the personnel in 502nd are new to the unit and the learning curve for a new soldier or one who has never deployed is a month and a half, said Houston.
"We can't afford that in Iraq. The new people, who have just come out of training and completed their school, and don't know one instrument from the other, they just don't train them in school for that," said Houston. "They don't know what happens when a generator cuts off, or they may not know how to fuel a generator," he said.
Setting up and training in the field has afforded new soldiers the opportunity to gain hands on experience with equipment being used in mobile facilities during deployments. It also gives soldiers, with a dentistry military occupation specialty, a chance to familiarize themselves with the job.
"Training for a deployment allows us to use a wide range of equipment we have not experienced, and it gives us a feel for Iraq, and for someone like myself who has never been to Iraq, it gives me an idea of what to expect when I get over there," said Spc. Stephen Combs, a lab technician with the 502nd.
"Working in a mobile fast reaction x-ray facility allows me the opportunity to operate a hand held x-ray machine which is relatively new for my platoon. It's a versatile piece of equipment and this is equipment not used in a regular clinic," said Combs.
Dental hygienists, dental assistants and lab technicians are not in the clinic daily working in their MOS, said Houston. This exercise provides them the opportunity to do what they know and what they trained for, he said.
"This is good training in a wonderful environment, it gives everybody a little more hands on experience with their job and prepares them for real world situations," said Sgt. Llewellyn McNeil, a dental hygienist with the 502nd.
Any situation that should arise, the 502nd is going to be prepared for, said Llewellyn.
502nd Field Training (US Army Photo photo by SPC James J. Truitt)