Friends, Family and dental providers gathered last week at the Joe E. Mann Center to celebrate the achievements of eight new dental assistants during a graduation ceremony.At the start of the year, the American Red Cross and Fort Jackson Dental Activity invited military ID holders to participate in a free, six-month dental assistant training program. The first of its kind on post, the program provides the opportunity for military ID card holders, primarily spouses, to potentially launch new careers."The dental assistant is actually a stepping stone to becoming a dental hygienist, a dentist or whatever they want to pursue," said Col. Dan C. Fong, commander of Fort Jackson Dental Activity.Dental assistants provide support to the dentist, a job that requires some of the most comprehensive and varied set of skills in the dental office."Some of these graduates may pursue the field of dentistry further," said Maj. Tyler Burningham, the Army dentist supervising the program at Fort Jackson. "Some of them may go on to become dental hygienists, some of them may go on to become dental assistants in the private sector or, potentially, with the government."When the program began in January, a dozen volunteers had signed up for the course. During the July 15 graduation ceremony, eight received certifications. Because the class is made up entirely of military dependents, permanent changes of station orders played a role in a many of the absences last week.It's a tough program, Burningham said."We have about 150 hours of classroom work, which takes place over seven weeks," he said. "After that, they're in the clinic for 600 hours, or roughly four months of volunteer work, where they get exposed to different fields of dentistry."It really gets them involved in the dental field and opens up different possibilities," he said.The post's next dental assistant training program begins Sept. 12. Volunteers must have a high school diploma or equivalent, up-to-date immunizations, be a dependent of a Service member or retired Service member, and be a U.S. citizen. Applications will be accepted until July 29.Burningham encouraged anyone interested in the program to speak with some of the first round of graduates to find out more about the commitment involved."It's a wonderful field to be in," he said. "There's a lot of camaraderie, and it's a lot of fun."To find out more about enrolling in this program, visit the Oliver Dental Clinic, Building 4323, Hill Street or call 751-6209 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.