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They Serve with Distinction

by Arthur J. Crosta, D.M.D. ('67) and Sheila Smith Noonan

Military service and dentistry have been a satisfying combination for many NJDS graduates for many reasons. It is a career choice for some, and for others it is a way to receive continuing professional training or fulfill their sense of patriotism. Below are the stories of five NJDS alumni who have served or are serving in the military.

Dr. Maurice "Mo" Hill, Jr. (D'72), Rear Admiral (Sel.), U.S. Naval Reserve Dental Corps
In civilian life, Dr. Maurice "Mo" Hill, Jr. (D'72), works with his classmate and partner Dr. Michael Della Rosa and 11 employees at a general practice in Brick, N.J. But as a Rear Admiral (Lower Half) Select in the U.S. Naval Reserve Dental Corps, he's responsible for significantly more people: the 375 reserve dental officers and 700 dental technicians who drill in active status.

After graduating from New Jersey Dental School, Dr. Hill enlisted in the Navy and served in active duty until 1975. "I loved the Navy, but didn't want to be constantly moving my family or be deployed away for a year or two. During a 20-year military career, you can expect to move five or six times," he says. "So I chose to have the best of both worlds: affiliate with the reserves and have the stability of private practice."

Dr. Hill's career in the Naval Reserve Dental Corps has steadily escalated, rising from an assistant dental officer to a commanding officer to where he is today, at the equivalent of a one-star general. He was chosen from 75 captains in the reserves based on the positions held and job performance. Dr. Hill is currently assistant to the chief of the Naval Reserve Dental Corps at the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Washington, D.C., where he works on special projects.

Along the way, Dr. Hill has had some interesting assignments. In 1995, he participated in Arctic Care, where he treated native Alaskans. That duty was memorable not only for the frigid temperatures - 20 to 30 degrees below zero - but also for the amount of decay Dr. Hill witnessed. "We took a mobile dental unit to a village at the end of the Arctic Circle, where there is no fresh milk," he said. "The decay in the children was unbelievable. One girl told me she drank six cans of soda a day."

Dr. Hill also saw active duty during Operation Desert Storm, serving for almost three months at the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia. "As a reservist, it is rare to be recalled," he says. "But when the President and Congress decide to use military force, you need the medical personnel to support the troops and provide care if they are wounded or injured."

Dr. John Ostrowski ('67), Captain (Ret.), U.S. Navy
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. San Diego, California. Bethesda, Maryland. Washington, D.C. Great Lakes, Illinois. What do these locales represent? Are they John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley, Charles Kuralt's news assignments, or Bill Bryson's From Here to There? They could be any of these but they are not. They are stops on the tour of duty of Dr. John S. Ostrowski ('67), a retired U.S. Navy captain.

Dr. Ostrowski began active duty upon graduation. "My plan was to spend three years serving my country and then returning to New Jersey to private practice," he says. "However, during my initial tour, I was offered prosthetic training at the Naval Graduate Dental School in Bethesda. After discussing the proposal with my wife, I decided to accept the offer." He completed two years of prosthetic training and one year of maxillofacial training in the early 1970s, and he became a diplomate of the American Board of Prosthodontics in 1975.

Then, Dr. Ostrowski began the somewhat nomadic life experienced by career military. He was assigned to the Naval Dental Clinic at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he spent two years as a prosthodontist and laboratory officer. Following Cuba was a stop as a maxillofacial prosthodontist in San Diego, then back to Bethesda as director of the Maxillofacial Prosthetic Residency Program. He also served as department head at the National Capital Region Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., and as chairman of the Dental Implant Program at the Naval Dental Clinic in Great Lakes, Ill.
In 1989, Dr. Ostrowski returned once more to the Naval Dental Center in Maryland, where he served a second tour as director of the Maxillofacial Prosthetic Residency Program, with additional responsibilities for Implantology and the Laboratory Dental Technician Program. During this tour of duty, he also was specialty advisor to the Navy Surgeon General for Maxillofacial Prosthetics and Dental Implantology.

"I have been very fortunate in my naval career to have had the opportunity to provide diagnostic and treatment services for patients referred from various medical specialties," says Dr. Ostrowski, who achieved the rank of captain. "My residents and I fabricated ocular and cranial plate prostheses, custom breast prostheses for post-mastectomy patients, and many different custom maxillofacial appliances, including nasal and auditory prostheses. We also provided many radiation-positioning devices."

Dr. Ostrowski's background in dental implants, broad clinical experience in dental and maxillofacial prosthetics, and a strong working relationship with medical specialties served a diverse patient population. Most of his patients were active military personnel and their dependents, along with retired military. He has also written many scientific and clinical articles and has shared his expertise through lectures.

"The Navy has given me many opportunities civilian life would not have provided," says Dr. Ostrowski. "In addition to the excitement of travel, I received excellent training and was able to advance my career with many unique experiences. I believe the military allows for a very pleasant and rewarding career."

"My dental education at NJDS prepared me well, and the Navy established a career direction for me that I could not have foreseen. I am grateful to both institutions."

Dr. Ostrowski has travelled many miles both physically and professionally, and today, his road leads to a prosthodontics practice in Annapolis, Md. He and his wife, Maeve, have five children and five grandchildren. Two sons, graduates of the United States Naval Academy, are military helicopter pilots; another son has his own auto repair business; their daughter works for a large financial firm; and the youngest son is a college freshman.

Dr. Ellen Simmons-Shamrell ('77), Colonel (Ret.), U.S. Air Force Dental Corps
The Marines may have been looking for a few good men, but the U.S. Air Force found one outstanding woman in Dr. Ellen Simmons-Shamrell ('77). Through hard work, dedication, and stellar dental and administrative skills, she became the first female colonel in the U.S. Air Force Dental Corps.

Dr. Simmons-Shamrell completed college and dental school in three years each, and after New Jersey Dental School, worked as an associate for one year. "I found that as an associate I had little say in how the office was run, and yet, I was young and didn't feel ready to open my own practice, so I decided to join the military," she says. The Air Force, willing to accommodate her location preference and recommended by classmates, became her choice.

As a captain at RAF Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire, England, Dr. Simmons-Shamrell reaped the benefits of her associateship; because of her experience, she was placed in charge of the dental clinic's flying program. While initially the plan was to fulfill her three-year obligation and return to New Jersey, two events changed the dentist's mind: First, she was accepted into a comprehensive dentistry residency, enabling her to attend school while receiving a full salary; and second, she married an Air Force pilot, Dick Shamrell.

After completing a two-year residency in San Antonio, Tex., Dr. Simmons-Shamrell was assigned to an undergraduate pilot training base in Del Rio, Tex. Until this point, the couple was able to stay together. That looked as though it would soon change, as the pilot was due for "remote" duty in Ankara, Turkey. But, as fate and the Air Force assignment officers would have it, the family - which now included a young daughter, Nellie - was able to stay together. "It was a blessing that we could keep the family intact," says Dr. Simmons-Shamrell, who was commander of the Ankara dental clinic. "That's something you can't always do in the military."

The Ankara assignment was a blessing for the Shamrells for another reason. They adopted a Turkish baby, Diana, who had been abandoned by her parents. "Children were left on the steps of a mosque because the orphanages were full," says Dr. Simmons-Shamrell.

The Shamrells were next stationed in Sacramento, Calif. Dr. Simmons-Shamrell served for two years at Mather Air Force Base as chief of professional services, and then, in 1990, as tensions in the Middle East mounted, she was assigned to McClellan Air Force Base as a commander. She supervised a staff of about 40 people, including 12 dentists. "Serving during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm was very exciting," she says. "Everything I trained for and learned about I had the opportunity to use. We were the only Department of Defense facility to have operational panagraphic capability in the local area, and so we were intensely busy."

At the same time Dr. Simmons-Shamrell's military career was growing, her family was, too. In 1992, identical twin girls, Emily and Victoria, were born to the Shamrells. The unexpectedness of twins, as well as having four children under age 7, threw the parents somewhat of a curve. Between a pilot's flying schedule, a commander's responsibilities, and the demands of a young family, says Dr. Simmons-Shamrell, something had to change. Her husband retired from the service in 1993, and she cut back on business travel.

In 1994, Dr. Simmons-Shamrell became the first woman in the Air Force Dental Corps to achieve the rank of colonel. She downplays this distinction, however, saying, "There were women before me who had made cracks in the glass ceiling, but then left the military. I was one of the few who stuck it out and became eligible."

Soon after achieving colonel, Dr. Simmons-Shamrell made a critical career decision. "I chose no longer to be a commander," she said. "It was important to me to do everything I could to fill that role, but when I did, I didn't have anything left over for my family." Later in 1994, she took a new assignment as chief of professional services at Scott Air Force Base in southern Illinois, where classmate Peter Barringer ('77) also was stationed.

In 1998, after 20 years serving in the Air Force, Dr. Simmons-Shamrell returned to civilian life. Now living in Vancouver, Washington, she has a state dental license but is not practicing. Instead, she is taking time to assess what the next chapter in her life will be.

Dr. Michael Merkowsky ('81), U.S. Navy
For Dr. Michael Merkowsky, military service was something of a family tradition. His grandfather was in World War I and his father served in World War II and the Korean War, the latter as a reservist called to active duty. So when the opportunity came to apply for the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program, Dr. Merkowsky took it.

At one time the program thrived, awarding about 120 scholarships a year to dental and medical students, but when Dr. Merkowsky applied in 1977, only 24 scholarships were given. It was also the last year the program was offered to dental students, he says. The scholarship paid for all four years of dental school; in return, Dr. Merkowsky agreed to serve four years in the U.S. Navy Dental Corps.

"While in dental school, there was nothing that set me apart as military-no grooming standards, no uniform," he says. "However, for six weeks between my first and second year I went to officer indoctrination school in Newport, Rhode Island. I was technically on active duty during the next two summers, but I was not assigned anywhere because of clinical obligations at the school."
Dr. Merkowsky became a lieutenant after graduation and was assigned to a recruit training base in Orlando, Fla. While he rotated through specialties such as periodontics, endodontics, and oral surgery, his primary job was filling recruits' teeth. In many respects, Dr. Merkowsky says, his military work was like a civilian job: He was never on a ship and lived off base. "To me, you're not really in the Navy until you go out to sea," he says. After four years of active duty and two years in the reserves, Dr. Merkowsky resigned his commission.

While he didn't make the Navy his career, Dr. Merkowsky, a solo general practitioner in Marlton, N.J., appreciates what the military gave him: a dental education he might otherwise not have been able to afford.

Dr. Gregory Klein ('93), Lieutenant Commander (Sel.),U.S. Navy Dr. Gregory Klein is probably every military recruiter's dream: No hard sell was needed - the prospect of joining the U.S. Navy as an officer was enough.

Dr. Klein's first duty station was at Parris Island in Beaufort, S.C., at a Marine Corps training camp. After a year of rotating through specialties ("It was like being in school again") and working on Marine recruits' teeth, he was assigned to the USS Ponce. The only dentist for 1,500 troops, he took a six-month Mediterranean tour and a five-month African tour. He soon found that working conditions on a ship are unique.

"My operatory was smaller than a regular-sized one, but had two chairs," Dr. Klein says. "I had two dental assistants and an administrative assistant, who served as an office manager. We offered most services typically found in a civilian practice, but not dentures - there wasn't enough room. Impressions for crowns were sent out to bigger ships by helicopter to the labs, and then returned. You also learn to work with the ship rocking."

Dr. Klein is stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Quantico, Va., where 1,600 troops support the Marines who fly the President's helicopter. He has been on presidential trips, and because of that, "I hear a lot of stories about Buddy, President Clinton's dog."

Dr. Klein, who will be promoted to lieutenant commander in May, says he's happy that he listened to the recruiter. He has picked up some unique skills, like steering a ship, and doesn't have some of the problems that typically plague civilian dentists. "I have a steady client base, there's always a replacement when support staff doesn't show up, and best of all, there's no billing," Dr. Klein says.

"We took a mobile dental unit to a village at the end of the Arctic Circle, where there is no fresh milk," he said. "The decay in the children was unbelievable. One girl told me she drank six cans of soda a day."

 

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