By 1st Lt. John Quin, 70th Mobile Public Affairs DetachmentJuly 6, 2012
NACO, Honduras (Army News Service, July 6, 2012) -- Despite rough field conditions, heat indexes in the triple digits, and having just half the dentists they expected, the Army Reserve Soldiers of the 912th Dental Company (Area Support) were able to surpass their early patient predictions while on a dental readiness exercise in Honduras.
The unit pulled together immediately and far surpassed their initial goal of seeing 800-900 Honduran patients, said Staff Sgt. Tim White, of Columbus, Ohio.
"We've seen over 1,000 patients even though we only had eight dentists and three hygienists," White said. "We were supposed to have 15 dentists initially. With seven fewer, this is definitely a big achievement."
The 912th is in Honduras as part of U.S. Army South's Beyond the Horizon exercise. The exercise combines real-world military skills training with humanitarian aid missions.
White gave much of the credit for the high number of patients seen to the patient administration department. Those were the Soldiers who met the patients when they came in, triaged them, and maintained order in the line, White said.
Sgt. 1st Class William Bisson, of Akron, Ohio, ran the administrative portion of the exercise.
Bisson's 912th team was supplemented by Soldiers from other units, including Spc. Jonathan Batres, a medic with the U.S. Army Reserve's 444th Minimal Care Detachment, and Staff Sgt. Henry Tobar, of the Florida National Guard's Company A, 260th Military Intelligence Battalion. Both volunteered to serve as translators throughout the exercise, Bisson said.
"Staff Sergeant Tobar and Specialist Batres quickly became a part of our team," Bisson said. "If not for a team -- docs, medics, interpreters -- it wouldn't have worked. When a team comes together, you can do remarkable things."
Because there is no language barrier, the translators had a much different perspective on the dental readiness exercise than most Soldiers, Batres said.
"Getting to know the Honduran culture, I've noticed the people are all extremely neighborly and friendly," said Batres, who often worked the clinic's waiting line. "There were no incidents of people being mean. The people are very, very caring and very grateful."
Batres, who is studying neuroscience and one day hopes to go to medical school, said the experience was a rare chance to see dentists working up close.
"I've had a chance to go translate for the docs," Batres said. "The patients are getting the same quality of work as we get at home, if not better. The docs are constantly checking on the patients' comfort. As soon as they're done, the patients shake hands with them or give them a hug."
Ultimately, the success of the operation hinged on the dentists and hygienists who were seeing patients. White and Bisson both agreed that the medical staff had worked tirelessly throughout the 10-day exercise.
Perhaps none was more motivated than Maj. Luiz Arzu, a dentist from Chicago, Ill. Arzu was born in nearby San Pedro Sula and still has family in the area.
"A lot of things have changed," said Arzu, who came to the U.S. more than 40 years ago. "I get a sense of pleasure and am grateful to help. I always wanted to come back and help."
Arzu, who plans on returning to the area with an organization that targets malnutrition in children, said he has done a number of procedures and has reinforced the importance of dental hygiene and flossing to his patients.
Beyond helping the community, Arzu said the training has been great for his Soldiers who don't often get hands-on training opportunities like Beyond the Horizon.
"Working with patients reinforces all the training they've done," Arzu said. "Now they've worked in the field and know they're able to adapt and overcome. Now that they have done the mission, our younger Soldiers will be able to refresh and recall quickly because of what they've done here."
The Beyond the Horizon is set to conclude in early July.