Dentists Give Back While Serving in the Army Reserve

Photo from the 185th Dental Company.


Photo from the 185th Dental Company.

Many dental professionals want more than a salary as they look for ways they can dedicate their work to a higher purpose, a goal recognized on National Service Day on September 11. Based in Garden Grove, Calif, the US Army Reserve 185th Dental Company seeks to help underserved communities while providing hands-on training for its personnel.

Major John Endow of the Reserve didn’t know what to expect when he stepped inside a Guatemalan field tent during his first service trip abroad. All he knew is that he would put his dental skills to work for more than 1,000 local residents during a 2-week humanitarian mission with the 185th.

With more than 23 years of experience in dentistry, Endow joined the Reserve to fulfill his desire to do humanitarian work while supporting his family as his children neared college age and pursuing his dream of his own private dental practice.

“Resiliency and adaptability are key in life,” Endow said. “I know it was the right time to give back and set the right example for my daughters through continued learning and community service.”

Endow is not alone. According to the CASE Foundation, potential employees ranked the opportunity to serve a higher purpose third among the considerations they seek in new employers. The Reserve offers those who enlist 120 career specialties in addition to opportunities to participate in humanitarian efforts.

Certified dentists who have a DDS or DMD degree can enlist in the 185th, pending eligibility, as an officer. In fact, Reservists make up 75% of all soldiers with doctorates and 50% of all soldiers with master’s degrees.

However, there are no formal educational requirements to join the 185th at the entry level. The US Army provides foundational training for those recruits, which include those who don’t see patients directly such as technicians.

Like Endow, Sgt. Caroline Fuel also has participated in global humanitarian missions including trips to Guatemala, Hawaii, and the Dominican Republic. In addition to serving, she is studying full time at California State University of Fullerton to become a physical therapist.

“Some of our patients have never had a dental checkup. I’ve never seen people so happy to see a dentist,” Fuel said. “The amount of gratitude and fulfillment you receive is overwhelming. They’re even grateful to receive a toothbrush. It’s that type of feedback that keeps you going, that lets you know you’re doing something right.”

Financial benefits, including tuition assistance, student loan repayment, and the G.I. Bill, all are available to help reservists pay for education. Obligations include one weekend a month dedicated to training, along with serving 2 weeks a year, for 8 years, though the requirements for applicants with prior service are determined on an individual basis.

Sgt. Janet Lay, also serving with the 185th, is an in-home care support services professional in her civilian career. She is taking advantage of the Reserve’s benefits to continue her education while taking part in community service.

“The nature of the Reserve lets me care for my aging parents during the day and go to school nights and weekends. When my dad had his second stroke, I knew it was my turn to care for him just like he’s cared for me,” Lay said.

“The Reserve helps me get the training I need to become a dental hygienist while helping my family and others through our mission trips,” Lay said.

“While rewarding, these mission trips are also challenging,” said Endow, who noted that the training he has received has helped him to be more agile in adapting tools for nontraditional uses and communicating between cultures. “We have to be ready to help others without the infrastructure we have here at home. We have to be quick on our feet and solve problems.”

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