FORT SILL, Oklahoma (July 19, 2018) -- Eight active-duty Army captains graduated from the Comanche Program Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) 12-month residency program July 12, here at the New Post Chapel. The course provides post-doctoral level training in general dentistry for new dental school graduates who are part of the Army Dental Corps (DENTAC).

Graduates from the advanced dentistry school included officers who all, after their undergraduate degrees, had earned their doctorate degrees in dental surgery or dentistry medicine (DDS or DDM) in 2017. Either degree is equal; it depends upon individual universities whether to award a DDS or DDM.

Graduates were: Capts. Austin Brown, Darek Dul, John Fleischmann, Tess Kornacki, Janet Myung, Nicholar Stoeters, Stephen Thomas, and Chad Wierlo. All PCS this summer to other installations: Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Stewart, Ga.; Fort Campbell, Ky; Fort Polk, La.; South Korea; and Vicenza, Italy.

Chaplain (Lt. Col.) James Hall, Fort Sill deputy installation chaplain gave the invocation; Lt. Col. Melissa Tucker of Dental Army Command gave opening remarks; Fort Sill Dental Activity Commander Col. Ann Behrends gave congratulatory remarks; retired Col. Priscilla Hamilton addressed the graduating class; Capt. John Fleishmann (also a graduate) assisted in presenting awards; the roughly 30-minute ceremony concluded with "The Army Song."

Tucker began the ceremony by recognizing other dentists at DENTAC for their work and accomplishments.

"Being a program director is a lot like being a maestro in an orchestra," she said. "We lost two dentists (to private practice) in April and May, we're adding two more to our staff. They do a lot behind the scenes and they don't get a lot of recognition."

She also recognized dental assistants and outside staff who contribute to the dental community's work.

"It's very hard work working for us. I change the rules frequently," Tucker said.

Behrends took the podium.

"Frequently in the Army we have to adjust fire. You're embarking on a new career, a new path," the colonel said. "I hope you find this very rewarding. I started in private practice and went into the Army later in life. I'm a late bloomer. Being in the Army has been one of the most rewarding things I've done. I've not regretted it.

"I hope you all find fulfillment with the Army, even if you decide to go into private practice," Behrends' said. "I hope you find fulfillment. This journey has not been easy for me the last few years -- it's been equally hard for your families. They've supported you and allowed you to do this so that you can achieve what you'd like to achieve.

"I'm still learning. As you get older you start to think what is your legacy," Behrends said. "What do I leave behind? For me it's the people I've trained. This is the perfect segue into introducing our featured speaker, retired Col. Pricscilla Hamilton. You can read all her achievements, but the thing I remember most about her is how she cared for her Soldiers and those she was responsible for.

"Specifically, my husband had had two very serious surgeries and she came by one day, just dropped in to see how he was doing. That's a big impact. She cared for everyone under her command. I would encourage you all now, you're going to influence others. You may not have a lot of subordinates at this point but you're going to and you're going to employ some people. Always be mindful of how you treat them and what you're doing," Behrends said.

Lastly, prior to presenting awards for service, Hamilton spoke.

"I'm reminded that the Army Dental Corps is older than the schools for Fires and field artillery by about 90 days," Hamilton said. "Both are over 100 years old. It's been 35 years since I've sat where you are now. The memories of that program when I came here fresh out of basic dental school, which was three weeks at that time, a new graduate.

"I thought I had a pretty good handle on being a dentist," Hamilton said. "I had four years of ROTC and being in the Army. In the early 80s the Army had just gone through a painful draw-down. Some people were very bitter toward military service.

"Collectively, we were regrouping. Some would question why one would even join the Army because it didn't have a very good reputation at that time. There were very few women and fewer female dental officers. Our command had only had experience with one female officer. It was still a challenge, she said.

"You've been given much through this experience," Hamilton said. "Step up and do your continuing education, volunteer to take on the tougher duties, seek out role models. May you all enjoy the next four, 14, or 40 years of service."

Family, friends, dental staff, guests, and graduates gathered for light refreshments after the ceremony.