Corydon dentist returns from Kuwait
For 14 months Dr. Terry McCooe treated patients who needed dental care and emergency work. But these weren’t just any dental patients; they were military personnel.
And McCooe wasn’t working on their teeth at his Corydon office. He was stationed in Kuwait.
‘I knew I was going,’ said the 54-year-old who served three years in the U.S. Navy and has been in the National Guard since 1981. ‘I’d get little hints.’
Then official notice was given, and McCooe had 48 hours to report for duty.
He said he was mobilized in February 2003 at Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh because Fort Riley and Fort Knox were full.
Once in Kuwait, McCooe spent time at Camp Arifjan, the largest military base in that country, and Camp Doha, a major base during Operation Desert Storm. He also spent three months at a naval base.
At Doha, two other dentists saw patients, while there was just one other cohort at Arifjan. On a typical day, each dentist saw between five and 10 patients. The doctors were on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. ‘I carried a pager with me,’ McCooe said.
After his family and friends, what the dentist said he missed the most during his 14-month tour was grass and Christians.
‘I usually love the desert,’ McCooe said, ‘It’s something fascinating, but it must be American deserts.’
Before he left Kuwait, McCooe said they had planted grass seed in front of the general’s headquarters.
Kuwaitis are 99.9 percent Muslim, McCooe said, and the military bases were close enough he could hear the daily chantings coming from the mosques.
McCooe, who belongs to a Church of Christ, led a weekly Bible study for the soldiers and he organized sporting games, such as soccer and baseball, along with sports trivia games, chess, checkers and backgammon tournaments, for them. He also went on ambulance runs and assisted medical physicians. McCooe said he also provided counseling.
They were able to keep up with some news through television and ‘Stars and Stripes,’ the military’s newspaper.
Stars and Stripes provides a more accurate account of the war. McCooe said the non-military media doesn’t report all the good things soldiers are doing overseas, such as opening schools, shutting down prisons and getting water systems working.
‘Apparently it’s not newsworthy,’ McCooe quipped.
‘People get the impression that this part of the world is against the Unites States,’ McCooe said, but that’s not true. ‘The Kuwaiti people have adopted American cultures … They duplicate everything we have here.’
Weather conditions were not great in Kuwait ‘ ‘It was the hottest place in the world’ ‘ but the food was ‘excellent,’ McCooe said, especially at Camp Arifjan, where the dining facilities served meals four times a day. Chicken and pork were staples, but once a week the soldiers were treated to steak and lobster.
‘We couldn’t complain about the food,’ he said.
The entertainment provided by the USO was also good. McCooe said Robin Williams, Wayne Newton, Bruce Willis and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders all made appearances while he was there.
During his tour, McCooe saw some familiar faces. Some of the soldiers he encountered were ones he had treated during November and December 2001, when members of the Indiana National Guard’s Infantry Brigade came to his Corydon office for periodontal cleanings, cavity fillings and temporary crowns before they shipped out for Bosnia.
He returned to Camp Atterbury the end of April. McCooe could have taken a two-week leave during the 14 months but he opted not to.
‘The separation was so emotional,’ he said. ‘I didn’t want to go through it again.’
He also didn’t know exactly how long he would be gone. ‘I figured it would be six months,’ he said. ‘We were kind of in limbo.’
Since returning to the states, McCooe said he’s been trying to clean his house.
‘I’m still trying to get things back to the way they were before I left,’ he said.
He waited until the first of July to return to his dental practice. McCooe said he was very appreciative of his staff and Dr. Mark Hall and Dr. Dave O’Banion, who took care of his practice in his absence.
They may be called upon again, as McCooe said he is ‘almost certain’ he will be called back overseas.
‘It’s tough for anyone to be gone for a year at a time,’ McCooe said, adding that it’s even harder on small private business owners who often can’t find someone to run their business for them.
Military service runs in McCooe’s family. He intends to serve until he is 60, even though he could retire now. His son, Brock, 26, was stationed in Bosnia, and his two stepsons, Adam and Bryan Trusty, are in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corp., respectfully. (McCooe also has a daughter, Kierce, 28.)
Upon his return, people have thanked him for his service.
‘I try to thank them for their support,’ McCooe said. ‘It’s good to know that people are behind you.’