CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – The military is not all hellfire and cordon wires. As a dental technician for 1st Dental Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Austin balances military bearing and discipline with an approachable personality, necessary for building rapport with patients, and getting the job done.
“I enjoy my job a lot,” said Austin, a native of Barrington, N.J. “I enjoy helping both the doctors and the patients. Assisting the doctors teaches me a lot about dental procedures. It’s also fulfilling to build good rapport with the patients at 1st Dental Battalion so they understand what we’re doing.”
Dental technicians provide much needed assistance to dentists by setting up and maintaining equipment, putting the patients at ease, preparing them for treatment and performing X-ray scans and administrative tasks.
“As dental technicians, we need to take care of patients’ needs,” said Austin. “We work hand-in-hand with the dentists for eight hours a day to provide those needs and maintain combat readiness.”
Combat readiness is essential for Marines and sailors. Dental issues, if left untreated, may end up requiring immediate medical attention, taking service members out of training or the fight.
First Dental Bn. sailors may be called upon to deploy at any time as part of a Marine Air Ground Task Force. As a result, they strive to maintain military bearing and discipline.
“You have to find a good balance,” added Austin. “For some people it takes a while, and they bring the boot camp mentality to the treatment room. That can come off as overbearing to some patients, and it makes it hard for them to relax. It’s best to calm the patient down because a dental treatment can be stressful.”
With his balanced mindset, Austin has gained more and more responsibility throughout his six-year career. Originally starting in the ‘root canal’ department of the 13 Area Dental Clinic, he now works with a team of three sailors and nine civilians, ensuring day-to-day work in the clinic is conducted efficiently.
“He’s personable and professional,” said Chief Petty Officer Thomas Riggs, lead petty officer at the 13 Area Dental Clinic.
“He works very well with civilians, and we have a number of civilian staff. He’s very attentive to the needs of his patients and his co-workers alike. He has done a lot for the daily functions of the clinic,” added Riggs, who considers Austin one of the best and brightest.
Despite receiving recognition from his superiors, Austin still credits his successes to his team and their emphasis on prioritizing their patients.
“My team is very proactive in a way, and being in a job with such a high technical ceiling, it’s important for us to focus on job proficiency and accomplishing the mission,” said Austin.
Austin plans to bring his balance of bearing, discipline and approachability to the civilian world as a forensics specialist, having already studied prerequisite courses from the University of Phoenix. For now, Austin is focused on leading his team to excel in their careers.
“I believe respect is one of the most important aspects of leadership,” said Austin. “You have to balance being a leader as a noncommissioned officer and being strict at times, but you also need to treat them with respect, no matter who they are.”