PENSACOLA, Fla. (NNS) -- Five Navy Dental Technicians and a former Hospital Corpsman assigned to Naval Hospital Pensacola graduated from the dental hygienist program at Pensacola Junior College (PJC) May 4.
The school is one of two schools in the country with which the Navy has contracted through the Selective Training And Readiness (STAR) program to send personnel to support the Navy and Marine Corps worldwide.
"This is a milestone for these new Navy dental hygienists," said Senior Chief Dental Technician Fred Eisenmann, Pensacola's military liaison since 2001 and the senior enlisted leader for Naval Branch Health Clinic Corry Station.
"[The new Navy Dental Hygienists' pinning] culminates an intense 2-year Duty Under Instruction program where they are accepted into the national Dental Hygienist fraternity," continued Eisenmann, "and will shortly go operational for tours overseas and afloat to perform as providers for our Sailors and Marines."
Each year, a group comes into the program and a group graduates, explained the senior chief.
"We have 12 in the sophomore class and 16 starting next week." Third class petty officers enter the STAR program, and upon graduation, are automatically advanced to second class with their new dental hygienist specialty.
This year's graduating class included Dental Technician 3rd Class Laura Blanco, Dental Technician 2nd Class Renee Brown, Dental Technician 2nd Class Scheri Garrett, Dental Technician 3rd Class Beverly Owen, Dental Technician 3rd Class Willie Smith IV and Dental Technician 2nd Class Jorge Restrepo, who was formerly a Hospital Corpsman.
Smith, prior to arriving for school at PJC, spent five years at the United States Naval Academy dental clinic and has orders to the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship, USS Blue Ridge, based in Yokosuka, Japan.
"I plan to further my education by completing my bachelor's degree and start my master's and retire Navy," said Smith.
Blanco, stationed at Submarine Base New London in Connecticut, before arriving in Pensacola, was the clinic's prophylaxis dental technician.
"Being able to see my own patients and know that my skills will help improve oral health care motivated me to pursue a career as a dental hygienist," said Blanco, the group's leading petty officer.
Between 12 and 15 dental hygienists join the fleet each year, said Master Chief Dental Technician Beverly Leedom, one of the enlisted leaders who oversee the program at the Navy Medicine Educational Training Command in Bethesda, Md.
The Navy hygienist community is relatively small, with only about 70 throughout the world.
"They are usually the first person - along with the dentist - whom an active duty person sees [prior to receiving and while on operational orders]," said Leedom.
"I'm very proud of each and every one of you for banding together and completing this arduous course of instruction," Eisenmann told the new hygienists, "and would gladly serve with and lead each of you again given the chance."
Coastal Carolina Community College in North Carolina is the other educational facility under contract with the Navy to support the dental hygienist STAR program.
For related news, visit the Naval Hospital Pensacola, Fla. Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/nh_pensacola.