Fort Leonard Wood dentist takes his skills to Djibouti
A Fort Leonard Wood dental officer is doing something less than 20 percent of his dentist comrades are afforded the opportunity to do — deploy.
Capt. Cody Negrete, assigned to the Harper Dental Clinic on Fort Leonard Wood, has been deployed to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, for the past several months.
"I volunteered to deploy, because of all the patients I see in my dental chair who have sacrificed of themselves to do it before and will continue when I'm done," Negrete said. "I am looking forward to returning home, but am fortunate to have had the opportunity."
Assigned to the Medical Functional Specialty Team, 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion, Negrete serves on the mission of the Combined Joint Task Force in the Horn of Africa as the Dental officer-in-charge for Civil Affairs operations.
"The thing I like most about being here are the people I work with and meet every day," Negrete said. "I've gotten to work closely with all of the military branches, foreign governments and organizations, civilians and military. I've also been exposed to much more about the military profession than I would normally be as a dental officer."
Negrete said he expected he would be taking care of soldiers as the camp dentist but he didn't expect he would be joining a Civil Affairs unit and be going on humanitarian missions teaching good dental hygiene in local villages.
He added that they handed out hundreds of toothbrushes, and there is more interest in continuing similar events.
"Here in Djibouti, they brush their teeth with a tree root. It is a Muslim country, so they are taught to do it before prayer five to six times a day. They actually have surprisingly fewer dental problems than you would expect," Negrete said. "They have pretty simple diets, which helps, but the younger generations are being exposed to sodas and candy much more.
"The younger population is very receptive to using toothbrushes, but they think toothpaste is poison," he added. "The older generations are resistant to change, but it was really neat to see them supporting it for their younger generations," Negrete said.
According to Col. David Kryszak, Fort Leonard Wood's Dental Activity commander, dentists deploying is not common.
"There are not many deployment opportunities for a 63-Alpha Army General Dental Officer to deploy, unless they are assigned to a BCT (Basic Combat Training) or SOF (Special Operations Forces) unit," Kryszak said.
"The Army has three TOE (Table of Organization and Equipment) dental companies that, depending on mission, can include up to 14 general dentists. Only 85 of 439, or 19.36 percent, of Army dentists have had the opportunity to deploy."
He added that duties of a deployed dentist are the same as those in a clinic due to mobile dental units, but the experience is something that cannot be compared to.
"Having the opportunity to work with multinational forces and to have a part in the humanitarian and national building efforts is one of the best experiences you can have in the Army," Kryszak said.
Although deploying is a huge opportunity and will set him apart from his peers, there are still drawbacks, according to Negrete.
"The most challenging thing has definitely been missing the birth of our second daughter and being away from my family," Negrete said.
He added that this deployment has taught him many things.
"I've learned that stepping out of my comfort zone helps you grow as a person and professional. I've learned that our country and military have a generally sterling reputation to uphold. I've learned that as we transition to the future that being able to adapt to an environment like this is the way of the future," Negrete said.
Negrete will return and be reunited with his family later this summer.
"Supporting the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa and the Joint Interagency Intergovernmental and Multinational team has been very interesting and exciting," Negrete said. "The opportunities here are a ‘once in a career and lifetime,’ and I feel fortunate to be a part of it."
Editor’s note: The following story appears on the Army’s official Web site. Capt. Cody Negrete is the son of Rob and Tammy Negrete of Washington.