FORT SILL, Okla., July 16, 2020 -- Col. Ann Behrends, Fort Sill Dental Activity (DENTAC) commander, said her unit participated in a post morale run early this year with various leaders calling cadence along the route.Then a voice unfamiliar to her took his turn and DENTAC runners responded to his call.She learned it was Capt. Kendrick Sawyers, a dentist in the 2020 Comanche Advanced Education in General Dentistry 12 Month (AEGD-12) program. For Sawyers, an Army ROTC graduate of the University of North Carolina, it was another step toward refining his two professions as a Soldier and a dentist.July 10, Sawyers and seven other dentists graduated from the AEGD-12 program at Frontier Chapel carrying the training they received in advanced dental procedures to their first duty assignments.The other graduating captains are: Mitchell Akey, Corby Dixon, Peter Heitman, Aqib Khan, Alex Kitchin, Eugene Paek, and Ross Vandercreek.Maj. Jillian Seglem, AEGD-12 program director here, said every year about half the number of dentists who apply for the additional year of advanced dentistry training get accepted.The benefit to Army readiness is immediately apparent.“These officers are going to be much more prepared to take on more difficult cases on their own, and handle much more complex treatment plans than a new graduate right out of school would be,” said Seglem.She said the eight dentists learned and used computer- aided design and manufacturing to complete dental products such as crowns, night guards, and bridges. This innovative technology also reduces the burden on the Army dental laboratory, which can take several weeks to get products created and sent back.Six military dental professionals led the training which 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, said Maj. Michael Kroll, the former AEGD-12 program director who recently moved to the Presidio of Monterey Dental Clinic, California.Given dentists are dual professionals, they maintained their readiness with physical training and completed military training such as firing a howitzer, completing a combat casualty care course, and competing in best warrior competitions.Kroll, now serving as the deputy consultant for general dentistry at the Presidio, attended the ceremony virtually and spoke to the graduates.“You completed a challenging residency in the most unique of circumstances I have ever seen,” said Kroll. “You may have thought this year of training was going to be a bit easy, then 2020 came along. But, you handled adversity as a team, and I can proudly say you have earned your certificates.”The major commended the dentists for connecting with their fellow Soldiers, one of the important things they did this year.“You showed an ability to assimilate into this culture and that dentists can fire howitzers, too. Nothing shows respect to the culture of the Soldiers we serve like going into the field and pulling the lanyard on a 105mm artillery piece,” he said.He went on to say, the dentists performed volunteer work in the community at the Oklahoma Mission of Mercy and provided care to military retirees. “You have shown your community selfless service and that you care about their oral health regardless of their financial status,” he said.Then COVID-19 arrived and the eight dentists continued to serve providing emergency dental care to Fort Sill Soldiers. Kroll said through their actions, “You were living the Army values and getting a world-class education along the way.”Next, Behrends addressed the graduates and thanked them and Kroll for making the program “one of the Army’s finest one-year programs.”The commander mentioned Maj. Gen. Kenneth Kamper, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general’s Fires Fifty list for self-improvement and said she had some similar bits of wisdom to share.She started with every assignment is an opportunity to learn and develop new skills. Behrends said she always tried to learn from every leader or mentor she’s met along her career path. “Sometimes you learn what not to do.”Next, she advises everyone, don’t pass up an opportunity to attend a military school, Behrends encouraged the graduates to continue their education. She said she’s seen numerous officers who didn’t see making the Army a career and passed on Army education only to see their dream job come up and no longer be eligible for it.“Always be ready for when that dream job comes up,” she said.Finally, her list reminds Soldiers to read Army regulations and know what’s in them. Behrends implored the dentists to ask an NCO for help if necessary.“They are sharp in their career field because they’ve studied the regulations,” she said. “These NCOs are going to be your support and the ones you need to look to when you want to develop yourself as an officer.”She said change is coming in the Army medical community and though it probably won’t happen quickly, it will happen and to continue the great dental care Soldiers have come to expect and deserve.“You can take pride in the fact you are part of one of the finest health care systems in the world,” said Behrends, who had her own private practice before becoming a military dentist. “Whatever you do next, do it with excellence.”The graduates then heard from Brig. Gen. Shan Bagby, whose titles include chief of the Army Dental Corps and commanding general of Brooke Army Medical Center, Texas.“Your willingness to serve the most deserving population and our nation is truly appreciated,” he said.The general addressed the uncertainty of the global pandemic and of how the graduates persevered.“You stepped up and met these challenges head-on providing care to Soldiers, volunteering your time to help those in need, and adapting to a new way of learning. I am sure this is a year you will not soon forget.”Sharing many nuggets of wisdom in a friendly manner of a trusted mentor, Bagby reminded the graduates of their standing in the Army dental community.“Be a leader. Never forget that Army dentistry and the Army need your leadership. By virtue of your advanced education skills, you are now viewed differently in and outside of the Army. You’re someone who other clinicians will look up to and follow.”Next, the graduates were presented their certificates along with Army Achievement Medals. Sawyers also received an Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal for his efforts supporting off-duty endeavors.Also, for the second year running, Kroll received the T.H. William Award for his contributions to the Fort Sill AEGD program.Growing up on the shores of Lake Michigan in Ludington, Michigan, Capt. Alex Kitchin said he first considered military service in high school. As his understanding grew, he realized he could complete dentistry first, then go in.Of the AEGD-12 program, Kitchin said clinic shutdowns in March curtailed some clinical experience they would have received but that the quality of the curriculum was good.“I think it was good exposure and I gained maximum or close to maximum benefit from the program.”At the same time, Kitchin alluded to the second profession he’s gained since lacing up his combat boots.“Being new to the military, you feel like you’re pretending,” he said. “So, the challenging part is to display good military bearing and adapting to the military way of life while looking like I know what I’m doing.”Kitchin landed his first choice for duty stations and will report to Fort Richardson, Alaska.Khan comes to the Army from Stockton, California. He followed a friend’s example of military service and has found the experience serving his nation and Soldiers very fulfilling.He said the AEGD-12 course was difficult considering the many tasks they had to complete such as patient care conferences, preparing lectures, end of the year projects, literature review, case presentations, and preparing for cases and lab work.“Working on all that kind of simultaneously made it very time consuming,” he said. “But, because it was very challenging, that made it very rewarding.”