FORT SILL, Oklahoma (July 18, 2019) -- When she was in high school Jessica Sencindiver wanted to enlist into the Air Force. Every year she took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, or ASVAB, but her parents told her she needed to go to college to become a doctor.

"I don't think I can do college," she said to her parents.

"That's kind of a funny thing now, being that I'm a captain and a dentist," said Capt. Sencindiver, who was one of eight dentists to graduate July 10, from the Fort Sill 2019 Comanche Advanced Education in General Dentistry - 12 Month program (AEGD-12). Sencindiver will now practice at Fort Lee, Va., which is about three hours away from her family.

The other graduates were Captains Dustin Davis, Matthew Firestone, Kyle Leach, Charles Lewis, Preston Melhauser, Benjamin Ottoson, and Kevin Tran.

Melhauser said he applied to the Army Health Professions Scholarship Program which provided funds to pay for his four-year training at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine. During dental school, he was required to serve as an Army Reserve Soldier (2nd. Lt.), and to perform 45 days of active-duty training per year.

Now upon graduation from the AEGD-12, he said he has a four-year active-duty obligation to the Army.

"I'm excited. It's been a long, fun year," said Melhauser. "They put us through quite a bit of curriculum. It's been a lot of work."

Melhauser will remain at Fort Sill. "That's a good thing," he said, because he has ties to the state, having received his undergraduate degree from Oklahoma State University in 2007, majoring in aviation management and professional pilot.

Lewis said the most challenging part of the program was mastering the procedures.

"There was a ton of papers and assignments throughout the year," said Lewis, who graduated from Boston University School of Dental Medicine in 2018. "It was not easy; it's definitely something I'll never forget."

Lewis will be a brigade dental surgeon with the 2nd Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

AEGD-12
Maj. Michael Kroll, Comanche AEGD-12 program director, said the curriculum covered the full range of dental health services. Seven faculty members facilitated the instruction.

The training included oral surgery (removing teeth), endodontics (root canals), restorative dentistry to repair broken teeth, or extensive filling work. About 80 percent of the residents' training was clinical working on Soldiers, and 20 percent classroom, Kroll said.

The residents learned the latest in dental technology here using digital dentistry, or same-day technology, Kroll said. This included 3-D milling machines, printers, and scanners.

"A crown that used to take weeks to come from a dental lab, we can do in about two hours," he said.
The residents also learned pediatric dentistry, Kroll said. Because Fort Sill does not provide pediatric dentistry, the residents provided free dental care to under-served children through the Oklahoma Mission of Mercy.

The dentists are Soldiers first, so of course, they were exposed to military training, too, Kroll said. They learned tactical shooting from the military police, fired a howitzer, and many earned the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge -- that built relationships with the international partners.

Kroll told the graduates, to "stay enthusiastic, stay humble, be a team, plan for failure but plan on change, and keep trying to learn what you do not know. We truly wish you all the best."

SPEAKERS
During the ceremony, Col. Ann Behrends, Fort Sill Dental Activity commander and dean of the Comanche AEGD-12, congratulated the graduates. She also acknowledged the AEGD faculty, and all the dental assistants, lab techs, and support staff who supported the program.

Behrends told the graduates they have the foundation to become excellent clinicians as they hone their craft over the next few years. She shared some of her insights.

"Be kind and respectful to everyone no matter what their rank," she said.

"You don't want to burn bridges, you never know when your paths will cross again," the colonel said. "The dental directorate is a smaller community than you think. If you stay in the Army long enough, you'll end up serving with some of these same people again.

"If you don't have a sense of humor, get one," she said. "If you have one, hold on to it.

"See every assignment as an opportunity to learn, to develop new skills, Behrends said.

"Always assume someone is watching what you do ... and how you''ll react in a stressful situation, or how you handle adversity, she said.

"Every one of you is a leader," the colonel said. "Leadership is an active endeavor, it involves active engagement with those around you, it takes hard work and dedication to a purpose. It involves constant self-assessment.

"Don't pass up an opportunity to attend a military school," she advised. "Having the expected military education will open up opportunities for new and interesting assignments."

Read the Army regulations, she said. "The Army is filled with officers who think they know the regulations because someone told them. It's been my experience that they really don't know them that well.

"What you really need is flexibility, or as the Army calls it, resiliency," she said. "In the coming months and years, we're (Army medicine) going to undergo great change. We must navigate those changes while still providing great care that our Soldiers expect and deserve."

Keynote speaker retired colonel Dr. Art Scott served 34 years as an active-duty dentist and four years as a Reserve Soldier.

He thanked the spouses and families of the graduates for supporting their graduates. Addressing the graduates, he gave them three pieces of advice.

A great assignment does not depend on the location. What makes it great is the people who you work with, he said. He noted that his best assignment was at Fort Polk, La., because of the staff.

Scott said the graduates are not just practitioners, but professionals, too, because they chose to serve in the military. "There is no higher calling," he said.

He said the Army is an opportunity, and not to get into a mindset that it's an obligation as one approaches the end of their service.

When one starts becoming obligation-focused, then their view becomes very narrow, he said.
They become risk-averse to trying other things, and not quite as committed because they see a finish line.

To avoid that, one should continue to seek to learn, to see how much more one can do, pursue how many more experiences one can take advantage of, and look forward as one keeps all their options open, Scott said.