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Hagerstown children's dentist spent a surprise tour in Iraq

August 11, 2008|By ANGELICA ROBERTS

HAGERSTOWN -- Melanie Newman works these days as a pediatric dental specialist at Crestwood Dental Associates in Hagerstown, but it wasn't so long ago that she provided dental assistance to those in Iraq.

In 2004, after having served in the Army Reserves for a couple of years, Newman, 40, received a phone call informing her that the Army was sending her to Iraq.

"I didn't believe it," Newman said. "I thought it was a crank call. Then a letter came in the mail, and I still didn't believe it."

"Originally we thought she was only going to be gone for three months," said Newman's uncle, Jeffrey Pearlman, D.D.S., of Crestwood Dental Associates.

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Newman's assignment went from being three months long to a year. During that time, Newman worked with an aviation unit as a dentist on the flight line.

She also provided dental assistance to Iraqi children.

That experience played a role in her decision to specialize in pediatric dentistry.

Newman said Iraqi youngsters are just like the those in the United States, except they speak another language.

"They had a significant amount of decay," Newman said. "It made me feel good that they were getting care."

While living on base, Newman said, there were mortar attacks nearby and she frequently heard weapons being fired.

But there was a positive side to the experience.

"I learned a lot about people, and about what's really important," Newman said. "It was a growing experience."

During her time in Iraq, Newman visited palaces and went to the movies.

She describes her life at that time as being quite "beige."

"We wore beige camouflage uniforms, the sand (was) beige, and my life consisted of a two- to three-miles radius," Newman said. "I was enclosed in my own gated community, and I felt relatively safe."

In December 2004, Newman returned to the United States, and she began working as a dentist for the government.

Currently, Newman lives in Frederick, Md., and works as an associate at Crestwood Dental Associates, at 18638 Crestwood Drive.

Although Newman has just begun to work in the office, she took note of the positive atmosphere, and said the highlight so far was "being a part of the office team, and meeting some wonderful patients."

While Newman is happy to be home, she said she doesn't regret her experiences in Iraq.

"I have no regrets," Newman said "I feel proud and honored to have served my country."

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