LA UNION, El Salvador (NNS) -- A father and his daughter kept things all in the family when they both volunteered to help support the Continuing Promise 2009 (CP09) mission aboard Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20).
Dr. Irvin Silverstein, medical director for the University of California San Diego (UCSD) NGO and the advisor/director of the UCSD student-run Free Dental Clinic Project and Pre-Dental Society, and his daughter, Sarah, were part of a team of volunteers from USCD aboard Comfort to help provide dental care and education to their counterparts in Latin America and the Caribbean region.
"Most of the civilians, both students and professionals who go on these missions have never been in the military and are amazed and appreciate what the military is doing to foster goodwill throughout the world with these humanitarian missions," said Silverstein. "They wish more people knew about them. Many of the students are looking at the Navy for a possible future career."
UCSD participants during CP09 have included both students and professionals. This year, along with those in medicine, there have also political science and engineering students, a priest and a public affairs officer.
CP09 is a four-month humanitarian and civic assistance mission to seven countries in the region: Antigua and Barbuda, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Panama.
The UCSD Pre-Dental Society is just one of more than 20 nongovernmental organizations helping contribute assistance during CP09. Its mission is to provide accessible, quality dental care for the underserved in a respectful environment in which students, health care professionals, patients and community members learn from each other.
"The UCSD Pre-Dental Society sponsors three free clinics in San Diego that are open to anyone who can't pay for services, no matter if they are from the United States or other countries," said Silverstein. "We are always looking for opportunities to show them about worldwide humanitarian efforts."
Silverstein is responsible for the administration details of the society's mission during CP09, as well as planning conferences, acting as an advisor and making sure the students selected to go on the mission get aboard and situated in their jobs.
His daughter, Sarah, is a third-year student in the seven-year Dual Admissions Dental Program at Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She is a resident advisor and a member of several organizations at the college. She is serving aboard Comfort as a dental assistant. She is responsible for sterilizing instruments, working with patient flow and other dental related duties.
"Sarah got into this dental school program straight from high school," said her father. "It is a unique program that allows high-achieving high school students acceptance into dental school directly from high school. There are very few positions or programs of this type in the entire country."
Sarah said that she is excited about getting to work on the mission.
"I had been hearing about missions like this for years due to my father's participation," said Sarah. "I always wanted to go, and now I am getting my wish."
Her father added, "Sarah had to go through the same screening process as anyone else on the team. She has wanted to be a dentist since she was a little girl. She started volunteering at the UCSD clinic when she was in the tenth grade."
Sarah said she is enjoying her experience on the ship.
"It's pretty nice," she said. "It's a new experience for me. The mission has opened my eyes to the tremendous need for dentistry throughout the world, and I am happy to be able to come and make a difference in people's lives by being a part of this great humanitarian mission. I wish more civilians could get this experience."
This is the fifth time that UCSD Pre-Dental Society has participated in humanitarian missions with the Navy. The society has participated previously on the hospital ship USNS Mercy in 2006 and 2008 and with the USS Peleliu during Pacific Partnership in 2007. They provided opportunities for pre-dental, pre-pharmacy, and pre-medical students to work alongside dentists, pharmacists and physicians from the United States and the host nations visited.
Comfort's four-month mission is scheduled to last until the end of July.
For more news from USNS Comfort, visit www.navy.mil/local/tah20/.