FORT KNOX, Ky. –
Maj. Adam Bennett chose Army service as a way to pay for dental school, but through service, he also gained opportunities and a formed a brotherhood.
To afford dental school, Bennet applied for military scholarships and received offers from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. He chose to accept the Army’s Healthcare Professionals Scholarship Program.
“When I started to weigh the pros and cons of each (military branch), what ultimately pushed me Army were three points: the culture, the training opportunities and people.” Bennett said.
Bennett, now a commissioned officer in the Army Dental Corps, was assigned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for his first duty assignment. Describing it as “an old school Army post”, Maj. Bennett said being at Fort Sill, one of four Army basic training posts, gave him a behind the scenes look at how Soldiers were made.
Bennett also discovered opportunities available to him as an Army dentist that would not be available to him in the civilian world.
“If I wanted to try new materials, I was able to order them. If I wanted to work with a specialist, I just blocked off a day to do so,” Bennett said. “Coming out of Fort Sill, I felt ready to practice with more autonomy than when I went in.”
After Fort Sill, Bennett deployed to Camp Buehring in Northern Kuwait. The conditions in Kuwait were different compared to the dental clinic where he practiced in Oklahoma. He now found himself as one of two dentists in a two-chair clinic in a doublewide trailer. But even in living and working conditions that were quite basic, Bennett embraced his new assignment and the challenges it presented.
“I had an ever-evolving population of approximately 6,000,” Bennett said. “It was a lot like being a small-town dentist. We all ate at the same dining facility, worked out at the same gyms and walked the same paths every day. It was such a gratifying experience to be able to be their dentist.”
After returning from Kuwait, Bennett spent time as a staff officer for a two-star general. His experience while serving on the general’s staff gave Bennett a behind the scenes look at what makes Army dentistry tick, as well as seeing how the Army Dental Corps is structured, the unique opportunities that exist and the pathways to get there.
It was during his time as a staff officer that Bennett was chosen to represent all “new” (less than 10 years since graduation) military dentists in the American Dental Association. This experience cemented in Bennett’s mind that he had made the right choice joining the Army to be a dentist.
With his four-year initial contract coming to a close, Bennett made the decision to re-enlist for another four years and continue his Army career. Wanting a challenge, Bennett applied for the Army’s comprehensive dentistry program, a three-year residency that allowed him to specialize within the Army Dentist Corps.
“One of the biggest benefits young Army dentists have is the number of residency programs available,” Bennett explained. “Where (the) Navy has three-ish oral surgery programs, we have six or seven. More programs mean more specialists within the corps.”
After a residency at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Bennett was still looking to push himself to find a new challenge. He found that challenge when he applied to be the dentist for “The Originals”, the Green Berets of the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) headquartered at Fort Carson, Colorado. In his current assignment, he is the sole dentist for the group.
“My job gives me complete autonomy to take care of the guys. I also have the ability to drive my daily and monthly mission to meet the needs of Soldiers,” Bennet said. “I am not confined to the clinic on a daily basis. If I want to attend a live tissue trauma training, go to the range or pursue jumping out of airplanes, I have the support from my boss to do these things.”
The uniqueness of his current assignment aside, Bennett says the best part of his job is interacting with Soldiers, something he has enjoyed since his first duty assignment at Fort Sill. He also knows that living and working in the Special Operations world puts him shoulder to shoulder with Soldiers who are making history on each deployment.
“The stories of what my patients have done and the history of the unit that I am part of humble me on a daily basis,” Bennett said.
Being an Army dentist in the Special Forces also means that Bennett is in a unique brotherhood among his peers. Currently there are only five active-duty Special Forces groups. That means he is one of five dentists treating and caring for these highly skilled and elite warriors. It is something that the special warfare units in the other branches do not have the luxury of claiming.
“I do not believe that the Seals have their own dentist, I know that the Air Force’s Special Tactics Squadrons does not,” Bennett said.
At the end of the day, Bennett says he would never have gotten to where he is, had the experiences and learning opportunities he has had or had the chance to provide dental care for some of America’s best and brightest, had he not applied for that original HPSP Scholarship.
“The opportunity to compete for and serve these Soldiers in this culture is the last thing that drove home why I would time-and-time again pick the Army scholarship,” Bennett said. “Each scholarship requires sacrifices, however, the opportunities are endless and the experience you walk away with will change how you interact with your peers and patients for the rest of your career.”