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NEWS | July 20, 2015

Local dentist volunteers to join IRT mission in Norwich, NY

By Sgt. Jennifer Shick 338th Medical Brigade

NORWICH, N.Y. - The Greater Chenango Cares Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) mission kicked off on July 13, 2015. The Greater Chenango Cares IRT provides real world training in a joint civil-military environment while providing world class medical, dental, optometry and veterinary care to the people of Chenango County, New York, from July 13-22, 2015.

The IRT in Norwich brings with it 13 dentists to include a very unique member: New York’s own Lt. Col. Craig Colas.

Colas has been providing dental care since he graduated from Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, in 1984. For the last 26 years he has been providing that care to the people of Binghamton, New York, splitting his time between the development center, a clinic which provides care for people with a range of developmental disabilities and the United Health Services which is a general practice clinic.  

Despite his long tenure as a civilian dentist, Colas is a relatively recent addition to the Army Reserve. Colas originally considered joining the military to help pay for dental school, but ultimately was unable to do so. While casually speaking with an Army recruiter during a dental conference, Colas found that there was a need for dentists within the ranks of the Army Reserve. Following in the footsteps of his son, who is an Army Captain, Colas joined the Army Reserve only a few years ago, commissioning in 2009 at age 50. 

“To think that at this point in my career I’d have the chance to help support soldiers and care for soldiers was something that I didn’t think was gonna happen,” said Colas. “So, it’s almost like a dream come true.”

Colas is the true embodiment of a citizen-soldier. Upon hearing of the IRT mission being held in Chenango County, he volunteered to temporarily leave his practices to be able to serve the dental needs of the people of his own community.

“I feel honored to even be in the Army Reserve, and then to be able to help in this mission which is almost in my backyard, is a just a fantastic opportunity,” said Colas.

“He is very excited and inspired to do dentistry.  He comes in and he puts in energy,”  said Lt. Col. David B. Shelley, officer in charge of the IRT dental section. “He enjoys working with the people, he engages with the people, he wants to know about the people. I am just very impressed by the fact that he just really wants to help people.”

Since the Greater Chenango County IRT mission began, Colas and the dental services section has treated more than 800 patients and performed over 2,526 procedures worth more than $240,086 at no cost to the community.  

“I think it has really helped to meet a need,” said Colas. “It is not a permanent fix, but it makes a nice dent in the problem, and we have seen a lot people that come in that are at least getting things started and really appreciate getting out of pain or getting something done that they would have otherwise continued to put off.”

Colas employs his skill in both the civilian and military world, and enjoys the interaction between service members, volunteers, and the local population.  

“I think the morale is fantastic here,” expressed Colas.  “Everyone’s willing to serve and the response I am seeing from the community is very, very appreciative. I think it is definitely a win-win for both the Chenango County area and for the military.”