As part of the Regional Health Command Europe exercise Maroon Surge '18, dental Soldiers, Airmen and NATO partners from around Europe worked together to identify "remains" after a simulated helicopter crash through forensic dentistry.
Maroon Surge '18 is a medical readiness and contingency response exercise designed to test Regional Health Command Europe's interoperability with joint, partner nation and operational medical forces.
The exercise started when Col. Manuel Pozo-Alonso, Dental Health Activity-Rheinland-Pfalz Commander and chief of the dental forensic teams for the exercise, received a call that a helicopter had crashed and Poland and the remains were being brought to Ramstein Air Base, Germany for identification.
Once that call was received, Pozo-Alonso began putting his teams together and seven dental forensic teams were "deployed" to Ramstein.
Pozo-Alonso said that is also when they started gathering the anti-mortem dental records of the Soldiers on the helicopter.
"We began with gathering the dental records of the casualties," he said. "From there the dental teams perform a dental exam and take x-rays of the deceased --trying to gather as much information about the person as they can."
Each dental forensic team was made up of two doctors and two dental technicians. The team works together to do the dental exam and x-rays. Once complete, the two doctors independently go through the anti-mortem and post-mortem files to come up with an identification.
"After the two doctors establish an identification the team chief does a final review and confirms the identification," Pozo-Alonso said.
Sgt. First Class Michelle Gonzalez, Dental Health Command Europe operations noncommissioned officer and exercise planner, said the teams successfully identified all of the remains.
To make the exercise as real as possible, planners fell back on real-life experience to develop the exercise and the injects.
Injects, or scenarios within the exercise, included being provided the wrong dental records, equipment going down, computer issues, network issues and dental charts with no anti-mortem x-rays.
Pozo-Alonso said the exercise was a great simulation.
"To gain the skills, to understand the scope of what we can provide," he said. "We wanted to give them an as close to a real-life experience as we could so they are prepared for a real-world mission. This exercise was great. It was a great simulation, all of the pieces were there. "
While this exercise was just a small part of Maroon Surge, forensic dental exams are part of the DHCE mission.
Pozo-Alonso and the DHA-RP team regularly perform these exams and he says he thinks it is a tremendous asset to have and that through this mission, they are able to help bring closure to families.
"To me, it is a privilege to be able to provide this service because no one, other than a dentist can do it. It is such a specific skill," he said.
A Soldier who dies is identified three different way, Gonzalez said, through dental, finger prints -- if they have not been burned off -- and DNA, which can take a while. "We can usually identify a body the same day."
Gonzalez, who has been on a dental forensic team many times during her career, said that performing this mission gave her a better understanding of its importance.
"I am passionate about it because of the importance of it," she said, "the family notification and providing that closure for them."
For more information on Maroon Surge, visit the RHCE Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RHCEurope/