Photo Information

U.S. Navy Hospitalman Justin Sobleskie (right), line corpsman from Severn, Md., assigned to Company K, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 3/2, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), and U.S. Navy Lt. Matthew Roberts, USS Carter Hall dental department head from Nantucket, Mass., do dental work on Hospitalman 3rd Class Shane Murphy, line corpsman from Spokane, Wash., with Tank Platoon, BLT 3/2, 26th MEU, aboard the USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) while at sea May 26, 2013. The 26th MEU is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force forward-deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility aboard the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group serving as a sea-based, expeditionary crisis response force capable of conducting amphibious operations across the full range of military operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Michael S. Lockett/Released)

Photo by Cpl. Michael S. Lockett

Corpsmen moonlight as dental assistants

28 May 2013 | Cpl. Michael S. Lockett

Dentistry is not a subject many U.S. Marines give much thought. Occasionally, they’re informed of a dental appointment. If they’re lucky, it may allow missing some type of work. But, who coordinates all of this? Considering the dental needs and requirements of the entire ship, embarked with a reinforced company of Marines and sailors aboard, falls on a select few. 

“We’re staffed for 300 people,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Matthew Roberts, the dental department head of the USS Carter Hall, from Nantucket, Mass. “When we come up with 700 patients, without the Marine corpsmen, there’s no way we could provide quality care.”

“We’re line corpsmen, embedded with the platoons,” said U.S. Navy Hospitalman Justin Sobleskie, line corpsman from Severn, Md., currently assigned as a dental assistant, learning the practices of the field from classes and hands on training. “Dental work is the last thing you think we’d be doing.”

The unlikely scenario is brought upon by need and availability. Line corpsmen are not obliged to deal with with the bevy of tasks their blue side, or shipboard, counterparts. Not being part of ship’s company, and instead belonging to the platoons, means they have time and space to learn a second specialty, in addition to their knowledge of doing with the varied traumas of the modern battlefield. “It’s always good to learn as much as possible about the body for a corpsman,” said Sobleskie.

“They have this thirst for knowledge. They want to know why they’re doing things, for scientific reasons,” said Roberts. The Marine corpsmen, learning from Roberts and his blue side dental assistants, are getting their instruction from a variety of sources. “In corps school, you get a basic knowledge,” said Sobleskie. “There’s a philosophy for medical: see one, do one, teach one. Hands on is how you learn the best.”

Dental assistants do just what their job suggests: assist. They help the dental officer as he deals with patients, practicing medicine under his license, performing routine examinations, and, as they learn more of the craft, more and more complex procedures. “Any time we have free time, we’ll sit down with Lt. Roberts and he’ll train us and show us different techniques,” said Sobleskie. 

The line corpsmen and blue side corpsmen will continue to work together to make sure the necessary medical work gets done aboard the USS Carter Hall. “They’ve picked up everything very fast; they’re very motivated, hard workers,” said Roberts. “By training the Marine corpsmen, we’re ensuring that everyone gets the care they deserve: the very best.”