- Associated Press - Saturday, August 2, 2014

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) - Maj. Philip Latteier cut a gallant figure in black and white camouflage during a June deployment to the Dominican Republic, but it was the U.S. Army reservist’s successful humanitarian mission there that drew the most attention.

A husband and father, the 37-year-old Latteier practices dentistry at Crested Oak Dentistry.

In one photo, Latteier smiles for the camera in khakis, boots and helmet despite the perspiration he said sometimes poured down the back of his ears.

Other photos show crowds of Dominican children or Army comrades linked arm-in-arm, all smiling into Latteier’s lens.

Maybe the most interesting photographs are those of Latteier, his commander and eight other dentists working over patients, leaning in under field conditions to pull teeth and fill cavities for nearly 1,000 people, including schoolchildren, local security forces and their families.

In addition to the reservists, two Canadian and three Peruvian soldiers worked side-by-side with their U.S. counterparts for 10 days learning how to clean teeth and otherwise assist dentists while performing more than 1,700 dental procedures, Latteier said.

The most basic complaints were a high priority for the impoverished people living around Laguna Rincon, a lake situated near the southern coast.

“We did do some higher-end procedures, like root canals to save people’s front teeth,” he said. “We did provide a full spectrum of dental services.”

In all, the free dental services provided to Dominicans were valued around $250,000. Not all of the work was routine, he said.

“We had one patient with eight extra teeth show up. None of us had ever seen that many supernumerary teeth,” he said. “We removed a few of them to relieve the patient’s pain.”

Latteier’s dental company, the 143rd, stayed in the city of Barahona on the Bay of Neiba but worked in small villages called Las Salinas and Vincente del Noble a short distance to the north, he said.

The exotic-sounding names of places established during Spanish colonial days rolled easily off Latteier’s tongue. The doctor of dentistry, who is of mixed Vietnamese and European descent, happens to be a fluent Spanish-speaker.

His company, headquartered in Fort Douglas, Utah, was composed of 10 dentists and 21 soldiers. The unit endured the usual tropical conditions, including giant insects and unrelenting humidity, while reclining on Army cots in Army tents covered in netting.

But Latteier wasn’t complaining about his annual two-week commitment to serve a mission, nor was he grumbling about his monthly duties as a reserve officer - just the opposite.

“All these missions are good,” he said with a smile, explaining his decision to remain in the reserves after serving on active duty in the Middle East.

Decorated with special commendations for his service in Iraq, Latteier said he stays in the Army because service as a reserve officer gives him a regular shot at “adventure.”

This was his company’s fourth mission to the island. Last year, it served a mission in American Samoa, he said.

In two photos, the masked major looks mighty focused on the mouth before him despite the sweat he said collected in elastic gloves made slick by 100 percent humidity and 90-degree heat.

A stiff and steady grip on dental tools was required for the job, he said.

Equally important was his demonstration of proper procedure and technique for numerous dental assistants there to train, some receiving detailed instruction for the first time, he said.

Soldiers assisting the dentists might work kitchen duty as reservists and in an insurance office as civilians without ever touching a dental tool before the June mission.

“We’re practicing field conditions in case of wartime,” he said.

That means setting up, breaking down and moving field equipment, loading it into portable boxes for transport by semitrailer.

“The biggest training is for the unit to work together because a lot of them don’t work as dental assistants in the real world,” he said.

Though difficult to imagine a world more real than the under-developed version unfolding in the Dominican Republic, Latteier said a short way across the island nation’s western border, people struggle under even worse conditions.

Haiti endures ceaseless poverty and civil strife, he said.

Born in California, Latteier came to Grand Junction after finishing his active service. He and his wife, Mindy, considered Alaska, California, Montana and Arizona, but eventually agreed on Colorado.

Once that choice was made, business opportunities and lifestyle made Grand Junction the family’s obvious destination, he said.

“It’s a great place to live and raise a family,” he said.

Family plays a big role in Latteier’s life. His father, a Vietnam War veteran, influenced his decision to volunteer for Army service, he said. His brother, a medical doctor, is an Air Force officer.


Information from: The Daily Sentinel, https://www.gjsentinel.com

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