News>Air Force dental team cares for Iraqi counterparts
Lt. Col. Robert Beck performs a root canal with the assistance of an Iraqi dental technician Dec. 5 at Victory Base Complex, Iraq. The Iraqi soldiers work side by side with the Airmen during procedures to get hands on experience and guidance as they prepare to take over the clinic. Colonel Beck, a Special Operations Iraqi Transition Team dental adviser, is deployed from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Terri Barriere)
Lt. Col. Robert Beck prepares to numb a patient's mouth before performing a root canal Dec. 5 at Victory Base Complex, Iraq. Colonel Beck, a Special Operations Iraqi Transition Team dental adviser, is deployed from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Terri Barriere)
Capt. Lanny Giesler packs a patients mouth with gauze after performing a root canal Dec. 5 at Victory Base Complex, Iraq. The clinic sees an average of 12 to 16 patients a day. Captain Giesler, a Special Operations Iraqi Transition Team dental adviser, is deployed from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Terri Barriere)
Capt. Lanny Giesler extracts a tooth from an Iraqi special forces soldier Dec. 5 at Victory Base Complex, Iraq. Captain Giesler, a Special Operations Iraqi Transition Team dental adviser, is deployed from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Terri Barriere)
by Senior Airman Terri Barriere
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
12/17/2007 - VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, Iraq (AFPN) -- The Airmen deployed with a purpose -- to advise and train Iraqi military dental specialists to care for their own -- but they're redeploying home with a reward -- the experience of lifetime.
Airmen of the 732nd Air Expeditionary Group Special Operations Iraqi Transition Team, or SOITT, came to Iraq to provide various types of dental care and counseling for members of the Iraqi special forces.
The Airmen provide routine cleanings, fillings, extractions, root canals, partials and teeth replacements, in addition to providing mentoring and advice to Iraqi dental specialists. What they didn't expect was their work to produce lasting relationships that forged a greater understanding between them and their Iraqi counterparts that would reach far beyond the scope of their mission.
"We've been told we have a great reputation with the brigade," said Capt. Lonny Giesler, an SOITT dentist deployed from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. "We've made a lot of people happy by showing them we care about them and that helps build good relations. If they know we're here to help, they'll definitely be more willing to work with us in other areas."
Those relationships are enabling the clinic to treat an average of 12 to 16 patients a day -- more then ever before, the captain said.
It has also opened the door to some unique experiences for these Airmen.
"I've learned so much about their lifestyle since I've been here," said Staff Sgt. Anisa Hernandez, a dental technician and adviser deployed from McConnell AFB, Kan. "The things you see on TV and read about you can't understand until you are actually here living with them."
Sergeant Hernandez said she was uneasy about the deployment at first, but was frequently invited by Iraqi women to have dinner with their families. She said her most memorable experience was an evening spent seated on the floor of an Iraqi home making dinner with two of the family's younger daughters. These are the moments she said she will carry with her.
"It feels good to have earned their trust," she said. "Knowing they look out for me now, makes me feel good. I was kind of uneasy at first being the only female, but once they understood I was here to teach them and help them, they opened up."
The team hopes to broaden the scope of care the clinic provides. Currently the clinic caters to Iraqi soldiers, but also handles emergency cases involving their families.
"We work with the basics, but still manage to provide a spectrum of treatment," said Lt. Col. Robert Beck, an SOITT dental adviser deployed from Offutt AFB, Neb. "You just have to prioritize problems and time. We'd deal with the bigger problem first, then move on to the smaller things."
Other than minor technical set backs, working with the Iraqi soldiers has been rewarding, the colonel said.
"They make very good patients," he said. "They are open to the treatments and take everything without complaining. They are a tougher class of patients."
"I wouldn't have traded this deployment -- this experience for the world," Sergeant Hernandez said. "I would not have been able to experience this anywhere else."