ABOARD THE USS SHREVEPORT IN THE RED SEA -- As the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) continues to sail east into the Central Command area of operations, a small group of Sailors work hard to ensure dental problems are the last thing on the minds of the unit's Marines and Sailors.
Dentists and dental technicians from MEU Service Support Group 22, the combat service support element of the 22d MEU (SOC), are responsible for maintaining dental readiness in the MEU both afloat and ashore.
Dental teams aboard both amphibious assault ships WASP and SHREVEPORT provide both routine and emergency dental care ranging from exams and fillings to complete oral surgery.
Their dental mission doesn't stop when the Marines hit the beach. The dental teams on both ships have field gear that allow them to continue exams and treatment for most minor dental procedures anywhere MSSG-22 decides set up shop. The teams even have the capabilities of splitting up if they need to go to separate locations.
Helping people is what drew most of these Sailors into dentistry. Petty Officer Third Class Ernst Deant, an MSSG-22 dental technician from Miami, Florida, likes the chance to meet and help new people.
"I'm a people person," said Deant. "In this type of work you meet a lot of people. By the end of the day you've helped somebody, and that makes you fell like you accomplished something."
Deant's mission is to assist the dentist assigned to the SHREVEPORT, Lt. Amy Plant, a native of Taylorsville, N.C. For Plant, dentistry runs in the family. Both parents are dentists, and her father served as an Army dentist. The bug for dentistry bit her while growing up around the office.
"I worked with my dad in the office," said Plant. "It seemed fun."
Plant and Deant comprise the two-Sailor team in charge of keeping all the Marines on the SHREVEPORT in dental readiness. They conduct an average of six exams and five fillings a day. With hundreds of Marines and Sailors on the SHREVEPORT, there are plenty of teeth to keep in top shape.
However, the "green side" dental team isn't alone. They are able to rely on the assistance and support from their ship counterparts, or the "blue side" of the Navy. The dental section aboard the SHREVEPORT assists with annual cleanings for Marines, while the "green side" assists with administrative tasks and some additional chair side support. The relationship between the "green side" and "blue side" dentists is as good as it gets.
"It's a tight relationship. Blue side has been very helpful," said Deant. "There's no complaints."
Petty Officer Third Class Christopher Lester, a Charlotte, N.C, native who serves as the Leading Petty Officer for the SHREVEPORT dental section, feels the same about the Marine dental team.
"PO3 Deant and LT. Plant are excellent workers," said Lester. "They always go above and beyond. It really helps out to make this work smooth."
Both teams share the same space on ship, which is limited to two chairs. Each team uses the space on alternating days, however that doesn't mean a day off for either team when the other is using the space. Often a dentist or technician from one side is assisting the other.
"It's a team effort," said Deant.
This arrangement has allowed the SHREVEPORT's dental detachment to maintain a 98 percent dental readiness rating and ensure that cavities won't keep any of its Marines from biting into the enemy.
In addition to MSSG-22, the 22d MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced). The MEU left Camp Lejeune in mid-February aboard the amphibious assault ships WASP, WHIDBEY ISLAND, and SHREVEPORT as part of Expeditionary Strike Group 2.
For more information on the mission, organization, and status of the 22d MEU (SOC), visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.