FORT IRWIN, Calif. – Lt. Col. Leslie Oakes, chief of pediatric dentistry and Enterprise, Ala., native, took command of the Fort Irwin Dental Clinic Command (DCC) June 24, during a ceremony at Sandy Basin Community Center, here.
“I think the unique and great thing about the military is you get to experience things you would never normally experience,” Oakes said. “When I joined the military, I just really wanted to see the world, so California is far from anything I’ve experienced.”
Following assignments at Fort Carson, Colo., in Germany and South Korea, and at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Oakes arrived at Fort Irwin in 2020 as the chief of pediatric dentistry for the Fort Irwin DCC, commanded by Col. Elliott Bermudez.
Bermudez served as the DCC commander from 2018 to 2021 when he relinquished command to Oakes.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling because I had an amazing ride with this team for the past three years,” Bermudez said. “I definitely saw this organization coming from the ground to the top.”
During his time in command, the DCC went through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which severely limited the facility’s capabilities in order to ensure patient and staff safety, and the transition to MHS GENESIS, the military’s new electronic health record.
In spite of those obstacles, the clinic’s mission continued.
“We still delivered, as a team, 95% readiness throughout the 15 months,” Bermudez said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team during that.”
Maintaining 95% dental readiness for the installation meant that almost all service members on Fort Irwin had the necessary dental screenings and were cleared to deploy, if necessary.
The readiness standard and team are what Bermudez is passing off to Oakes, Bermudez said.
“I’m leaving this place for her in the best scenario possible – a brand new clinic, the best team of specialists now on board, and a good team,” he said. “I’m confident that she’s getting something that she can move forward and will most likely be smooth sailing for her.”
Oakes said she knows going from a clinician to a commander will be a change.
“With the command, it’s a more strategic level,” Oakes said. “How do I help the greater population versus just my one-on-one interaction with patients or the Soldiers I work with.”
Oakes already has plans for the clinic.
“My big focus will be rebuilding after COVID and after the renovations,” she said.
Fort Irwin DCC recently reopened Shuttleworth Dental Clinic on May 10 in its newly renovated building. During renovations, the dental clinic operated out of a trailer near the original clinic.
Part of rebuilding includes catching up on services that were delayed due to COVID-19 and the renovations, Oakes said.
Bermudez said Oakes can also rely on Weed Army Community Hospital for support.
“One of the beautiful benefits we have here is the amazing support that we get from the Weed Army Community Hospital,” Bermudez said. “I wish for every dental clinic and any DENTAC to have the amazing relationship we have with the Weed Army Community Hospital.”
For more information on dental services, visit https://weed-irwin.tricare.mil/Health-Services/Dental.