NEWS | July 25, 2012

Foundation for Success: Charleston Airman returns from deployment

By Airman 1st Class Tom Brading Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Organizing a medical supply closet that was overflowing with random dental supplies, providing emergency care for patients, as well as being the first, and only, Air Force dental advisor in the battle-scarred region of Afghanistan were just some of the challenges faced by Maj. Courtney Schapira from the 628th Medical Group at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., who recently returned from her six-month deployment to the blistering valleys of the Middle-East.

We first told you about Schapira in January. While assigned to a medical embedded training team as chief dental advisor at the Paktia Regional Military Hospital, Schapira told us about her mission and discussed the challenges of building a successful foundation for the Afghans she was mentoring. Her story inspired people from all around the world.

"The responses I received after the story was published were overwhelming,"
said Schapira, who was in Afghanistan when it was released. "Receiving supportive messages from so many people was encouraging."

Another thing that helped her through her deployment was the common respect that she and the Afghan dental team had for each other as professionals. Not only did they learn from her, but she was able to learn from them as well.

"Traumatic cases came through the hospital often," said Schapira. "However, one case really stands out. A man was rushed in with multiple severe jaw fractures, and his condition seemed beyond the level care that we would be able to provide, and I was a little nervous as his condition was far worse than I had ever seen or treated. But, the Afghan dentist on call that night wasn't ready to give up and together we treated the patient as a team and it resulted in a very successful recovery."

Working alongside the Afghan dentist whom she had dedicated herself to training, Schapira witnessed his display of confidence and knowledge to effectively treat such a difficult case. She knew, in that moment, that even though they may have insufficient medical supplies when compared to the western world, the Afghan dentists would be 'just fine' without her.

The event was also a learning experience for Schapira. The Afghan dentists taught her to have resiliency no matter how challenging the situation seemed. The confidence from the Afghan doctors helped reassure the confidence she has, in herself, as a medical professional.

According to Schapira, she left Afghanistan a better dentist and person than when she arrived. In addition, she was able to accomplish all of the goals she had set at the beginning of her deployment.

"The logistical side of the dental clinic is not only better organized, but we've set them up for a 350 percent increase in available supplies and materials than when I originally arrived," said Schapira. "The Afghan dentists are more up-to-date on modern dentistry techniques and by mentoring the Afghans, we minimize the need to send more Airmen in our place."

Schapira felt conflicted toward the end of her deployment. On the one hand, she wasn't fully ready to leave the dentists she was mentoring; however, she knew her portion of the mission was over and she was excited to return to the dental clinic at JB Charleston and do her part in keeping our own Airmen healthy.

"I take pride in being able to say 'I take care of the men and women that take care of America'," said Schapira. "Serving in the Air Force lets me work and learn from some of the best dentists in the world."