By Suet Lee-GrowneyJune 14, 2018
FORT SILL, Okla., June 14, 2018 -- Maj. Michael Kroll, Fort Sill Dental Activity (DENTAC), was awarded the Dental Corps Chief's Junior Officer Award of Excellence of the year June 1.
Kroll practices his craft as a dentist performing full comprehensive work of patients ranging from oral surgery to cosmetic dentistry. He also serves as the assistant director of the Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) one-year program under Lt. Col. Melissa Tucker, AEGD one-year residency director and DENTAC deputy commander. For the last three years at Fort Sill he has mentored young dental officers fresh out of dental school.
Each year, AEGD receives eight new officers for the one-year program where Kroll coaches them in clinical dentistry and trains them directly. Kroll describes the program to be like a fellowship. Since August 2015, he has been voted Mentor of the Year every year.
"There is no one that deserves (the Junior Officer Award of Excellence) more than he does," Tucker said. "He put in an exorbitant amount of time teaching residents, he really cares about the product he produces -- every Soldier gets the highest quality treatment when his hands touch them He is your ideal Army officer. He is an all-around very good guy, he is a good family man, great father, he is an excellent dentist ... I don't know many dentists as good as Kroll is."
Apart from the front and clinical side of business, Kroll actively participates on the strategic level of operations working as a consultant for general dentistry for the Office of the Surgeon General.
According to Tucker, Kroll was probably one of 50 to 100 other nominees for the award.
"Armywide, he is the only junior officer that got this award," she said. "It's once a year. The corps chief will give this award."
But this military award of excellence is not the extent of Kroll's achievements. Earlier this year, he was chosen as one of the American Dental Association's top 10 dentists in the nation with under 10 years of experience since graduating dental school. Kroll was the only dentist among the 10 with a military background.
"It's just humbling to get this kind of recognition," Kroll said. "It's been surreal because I come to work and do what everybody else does, and it's really cool to be looked at for these kind of positions. We don't get paid (extra as doctors) for what we do, we all take care of the Soldiers the same way."
When Kroll is not at work, he's busy with his two children, who he said eat up a lot of his time in a good way. But for Kroll, being a good father contributes to being a good leader and dentist.
"With kids, it teaches you empathy," he said. " When you have little kids, they don't understand at all what you're talking about. So trying to find a way to communicate your feelings to your children, is kind of the same way of communicating what I'm going to do with a patient to them.
"When I'm trying to explain how to do veneers on a patient, they have no idea what I'm talking about, but they have to understand to have a buy-in," he said. "If I want my kids to eat their vegetables, they may not understand what I'm talking about, but we have to find a way to connect. So it's empathy, it's connection, and it's understanding how to talk to people."
Kroll also enjoys outdoor activities, such as hiking and boating. And while he is home, he spends time working on various projects around the house.
"I like to tinker; fix things in the garage, fix small engines that kind of stuff," he said. "I like to work with my hands when I get home. I like to garden -- I have a big garden where I grow vegetables. I also like to do some woodworking. So (I) work my hands that kind of way."
Kroll said he notices that people who work with their hands have the ability to try and solve problems. The ability to troubleshoot and formulate a process through the projects he works on during his pastime, Kroll said, works into practical knowledge, which is useful in dentistry.
"You have the common sense knowledge that helps you a lot in dentistry because we try to overcomplicate a lot of things," he said. "In medicine as well, we try to make everything super scientific and use huge words, and then you realize when you come down to it, a lot of it is common sense. What you do is just applying these principles of fixing something, something that's broken and applying it to the human body."
There were a few turning points in Kroll's life that led him down Army dentistry. One of his earliest memories of when his curiosity for dentistry piqued was during a visit to the local dentist to get braces.
"It was his dental assistant -- and I can't remember her name for the life of me --but she explained everything well because I had that type of personality where I like to know why people are doing what they're doing," Kroll said. "So that made me interested in dentistry."
Kroll remembers having to declare his major on his first day at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., as an undergraduate. He did not walk in knowing he wanted to be a dentist then, but his adviser helped him arrive at pre-dentistry by deducing his wants and dislikes.
"I liked science, I like working with people; I wanted to do something along those lines, but which one has the least amount of math," he said. "The (adviser) kind of laughed and said, 'I think pre-dentistry doesn't make you take calculus.' And so I said I'll do pre-dentistry, I like dentistry anyway."
During college, he shadowed a dentist in Coopersville, Mich. Kroll said that experience was something that really made him want to become a dentist because he was so impressed with his mentor's cool technology. He ended up going to the same dental school his mentor attended at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Kroll had a hard time trying to pin down a specific time when he wanted to join the military, but said, "The joke is that the prospect of having $500,000 in student loans really is an epiphany and a life-changing moment that I want to be a doctor, but I don't want to be half a million dollars in debt when I graduate school."
What he does remember is growing up with close relatives and family friends being in the service. On the walls inside his office at Cowan Dental Clinic are photos of men in service uniforms dating back to World War II.
"I have two pictures back there, my two grandfathers serving in the Navy during World War II (and) family friends that served in WWII as paratroopers, so it's one of those things that having service run in your family whenever you have a major world event," he said.
Sept. 11 happened when Kroll was in high school.
"I can honestly say that was one of the moments that made anybody reflect service to your country," he said as he looked at photos of men who served before him hanging on his walls. "If anything I'd say 9/11 is what made me think about joining the military."
There are three things that drive Kroll to be a better dentist and Army leader: treating his patients with the highest level of care; working as hard as he can while he can; and his family.
Kroll treats his patients how he would treat his own family. When he thinks about dentistry in the Army, a lot of it is socialized medicine, he said reluctantly.
"We have to treat the most amount of Soldiers in the least amount of time for the least amount of money," he said. "A lot of times when people think that they get this negative connotation about Army dentistry.
"To me I treat everybody the same, whether you're a general or a private, you'll have the same level of care. As long as you have the time, and as long as you're going to put in the effort to take care of yourself, we're going to give you that level of care."
His office layout and decor reflects his work attitude. There were several stacks of reference books sprawled across his desk for quick access. On his computer monitor was a blown-up, close-up shot of one of his patient's dental work, which he recently worked on and showed to one of his mentees.
Also around his desk, other clues of his profession: a large bottle of mouthwash, a medical skull with all its teeth, a complicated looking digital camera with large arms on its side supporting two flashes to document close-up work, and more.
"I don't like to sit down to take it easy and kind of sit back," he said. "I work hard and when I'm not at work, spend time with my family. But my philosophy is work as hard as you can because you never know what day is going to be your last, so do as much as you can while you can."
But perhaps the biggest motivation and humbling experience for Kroll is his family. He met his wife and high-school sweetheart when they were only in sixth grade. He said when he graduated high school, he graduated 155 out of 300 and his wife was the valedictorian.
"And yet she's the one who gets to stay home and take care of kids," he said. "She is much smarter than me, much more intelligent than me, much more articulate than me. It's humbling for me to see her take on that role of a mother raising our children and letting me do this and follow my profession."
Kroll's ethics show in his work performance, said Tucker. She added his presence makes anyone he's around a better officer and better dentist. The two met a while ago in residency together where she was senior to him; and served together for two years at Fort Hood, Texas.
"I think that if you're going to try to be a better leader, better officer, better mentor, you surround yourself with those who are like-minded," she said. "So if you want to soar with the eagles, you hang out with eagles; anyone that's around (Kroll) naturally starts gravitating to those type of things. You just cannot help it, you see his work ethic, you see how much his passion is for what he does, he is an excellent teacher. He will actually sit down and teach them, and it makes everything around you a more inspiring atmosphere. His dentistry is superb. There is no one who can do some cosmetic dentistry like that guy can. He is very, very good and he knows how to teach it."