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Students of the American Red Cross Dental Assistant training program stand with their certificates of completion during the program’s graduation ceremony April 6 at the Sportsman Lounge on Fort Drum, New York. The ceremony recognized the graduation of seven students from the six-months-long program, each of whom put in more than 800 hours of didactic and hands-on clinical training to become dental assistants. (U.S. Army Photo by Warren W. Wright Jr., Fort Drum MEDDAC Public Affairs)

Fort Drum Dental Activity staff celebrates American Red Cross dental assistant graduates

Warren Wright

Fort Drum MEDDAC

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (April 7, 2023) – Members of the Fort Drum Dental Health Activity staff celebrated the accomplishments and hard work of seven dental assistant students during a graduation ceremony April 6 at the Sportsman Lounge on Fort Drum, New York.

The students were part of a six-month program sponsored by the American Red Cross. The cost-free comprehensive program for military family members provided students with more than 800 hours of didactic and hands-on clinical training, leading to a certificate of completion as a dental assistant.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity for spouses, especially as we follow our Soldiers around,” said Jennifer Mapes, Service to the Armed Forces / International Services regional program specialist with the American Red Cross and one of the program leads. “This career is Monday through Friday, they get weekends off, and this program allows our spouses to learn a new skill that they can take with them wherever the Army takes them.”

Lt. Col. Russell K. Searle, Fort Drum DENTAC commander, said at least three of the graduates already have applied to work at one of his dental clinics on Fort Drum, while others will pursue other opportunities either in the North Country community or at their follow-on duty stations.

“They have been value-added to our organization,” Searle said. “They were essential in helping us to treat Soldiers and conduct what seems like an endless stream of readiness exams.”

According to Searle, the American Red Cross Dental Assistant program on Fort Drum has been around for the last 10 to 12 years, and program managers expect to continue the program well into the future, with the next round of recruitment beginning in the fall.

“In the current environment that we’re in with the number of dental assistants here in Watertown, it is mission critical to us to do this program because of the dental assistants that we get out of it,” Searle said. “If we didn’t, we would be short-staffed every year five or six dental assistants.”

For the graduates, their hard work, long hours, and dedication to pursuing a new and rewarding career paid off once they received their certificates of completion during the ceremony.

“What motivated me was the challenge and knowing I can be successful at the end, knowing that it’s all for something and this is a career I can pursue,” said graduate Lexie Morin. “We’ve come a long way. I think all of us feel 100 percent confident in our ability to practice as dental assistants.”

The requirements to join the dental assistant training program are minimal; an applicant must be at least 18 years old, be a U.S. citizen, and be a family member of a U.S. military member. Applicants are accepted regardless of whether they have experience or training in a dental field.

“I joined not knowing anything (about dentistry),” Morin explained. “I knew how to brush my teeth; I knew how to floss. But I didn’t know anything. We had to learn a whole new language, talking about tooth surfaces, buccal, lingual, masticatory, all those different words. It’s just crazy. We’ve come a long way.”

In addition to Morin, graduates included Rossane Rodriguez, Bridgett Chandler, Kelsey Gaskill, Elizabeth Wolf, Emily Kent, and Bailey Shaw.

The American Red Cross Dental Assistant Program, which is offered on several bases worldwide, works to provide support and resources to military families. Learn more about the American Red Cross's work with military members and their families at