BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A group from Keelser's 81st Medical Group just returned from a 10-day trip to the Dominican Republic.
The dental team of five performed free dental care to hundreds of people as part of New Horizon's Training Exercise. Several military members worked side-by-side to provide a variety of healthcare to close to 6,000 Dominicans in Azua.
According to the team, the exercise was more than training - it was a fulfilling experience.
"As part of a larger training mission, we primarily saw patients with dental needs....taking out teeth or teeth extractions, as well as cleanings and fillings," said Capt. Joseph Gedge, who is a dentist at Keesler Air Force Base's dental clinic.
Five dental specialists from the base worked around the clock, seeing 50 to 60 patients a day with serious dental issues. The training prepares military personnel for upcoming deployments, but for many of the Keelser Airmen, the trip was more than an exercise.
"There was people who there wasn't a tooth in their mouth that they could keep," said Staff Sgt. Teresa Booker. "They just wanted to keep one or two of them just to eat something."
Dental hygienist Staff Sgt. Brooke Mortensen added, "It's really sad when you see children who are 3, 4, 5 years old where they have decay, cavities on every tooth in their mouth. That breaks your heart."
Mortensen says helping others was the biggest reward during their trip. Several patients waited in line the night before to see a dentist for the first time in their lives.
"You don't really get a day off in between, but you feel so good about what you've done that it makes it all worth it," said Mortensen.