CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Taking leave and liberty will be a little easier for Marines returning from Iraq this year thanks to front-line care provided by the 1st Force Service Support Group's mobile dental teams.
Since the Marines were constantly on the march, many serving in Iraq last year didn't receive any form of dental care, and when care was rendered, it was seldom documented. As a result, returning veterans were called in for checkups, disrupting homecoming vacation plans and flooding stateside clinics.
Four teams were organized for this year's deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a response to the limited dental care available last year, said Senior Chief Petty Officer Carl Fritts, 46, the 1st FSSG's dental chief, originally from Denton, N.C.
Normally, the Marine Corps maintains a 98-percent readiness rate of Marines who have received their yearly required dental care, but this number dropped to as low as 86 percent on some bases because of the war, said Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Benedict, 38, a dental technician from Helena, Mont.
More care provided in the field and better record keeping should prevent this sort of lapse from happening again, said Benedict.
The teams hope to complete many of the mandatory yearly checkups that Marines now in Iraq will need done by Dec. 31.
Since starting mobile operations in late March, the teams have performed more than 7,500 procedures in Iraq, said Fritts.
Consisting of one dental officer and one or two enlisted dental technicians, each team is equipped and trained to bring the highest level of care available to the field, said Fritts. The teams offer a variety of services ranging from cleanings -- the most common procedure carried out -- to adding fillings, root canals and oral surgery.
Based at Camp Taqaddum, the teams travel to the camps in western Iraq that lack dental facilities. With the exception of Camps Fallujah and Al Asad, which each have surgical companies to perform dentistry, the four teams are the sole providers of care to many bases. Everywhere from nearby Camp Habbaniyah to more distant Korean Village and Al Qaim is visited, said Fritts.
"We'll all benefit from this when we get home. The whole operation is definitely well worth it," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Cerrillo, 24, a dental technician from Brownsville, Texas.