For the men and women of the Dental Squadron, the job they face will be grisly. They will use dental records to try to identify thousands of bodies. Thursday, they began the first steps in preparing to leave, getting their personal and legal affairs together.
The squadron commander says Keesler was called to help because of the skills of these technicians and dentists.
"We have the largest training program for dentists in the country, and so we're very proud of those people, and we have exceptional expertise here," Col. Dennis Furey said. "We have more certified specialists on my staff than most locations."
Many of these men and women have never been to a mass casualty site, and they're not sure what to expect. Experienced personnel say the best way to get through the difficult task ahead is to try to detach yourself.
"Quite a few of our personnel have experience in this sort of thing, and it's something you'll never forget," Col. Nicholas Miniotis said. "It will leave somewhat of an emotional scar, but everyone's a professional, and this is just part of the job we do."
"My family, that's what I think about, my family," Sgt. Jennifer Tierney said. " But you know I'm grateful. I have my family. These people don't, and it's a good thing we're going and we're doing something for them, for the families who don't know. They just don't know and hopefully we can help them out that way."
During the last briefing of the day, Chaplain Dean Hall urged the troops to help each other out too.
"You're going to be brought into a situation where you may see things that you've never seen before or never dreamed that you'd see before, and your emotions and everything that you are will be tested. I'm sure it will be. So the main thing that you should do is try to keep an eye on each other as best you can."
It's not yet known when the squadron will leave. Flights and accommodations are being arranged. The teams will work three or four weeks and then rotate with other crews to get a break from the mentally grueling job. Since the squadron is not going overseas, the commander says members won't need special vaccinations.