The American Red Cross and Fort Hood Dental Command graduated seven new dental assistants from their training program Monday morning.

This dental assistant apprentice program has been active on Fort Hood since the 1970s, said Gail Pierce, Red Cross Dental chairman.

This year’s graduates were Zainab Ali, LaShanda Blunt, Chanel Blas, Rachel Branscum, Daovone Davis, Adisa Dodson and Christine Washington.

The students combined classroom learning with more than 900 hours of hands-on clinical training experience over the past nine months.

“This is the beginning of a brand new career, and it’s exciting,” said Col. Anne McCartney, Fort Hood Dental Activity deputy commander and Dental Assistant Training Program officer-in-charge. “Dentistry is a wonderful, rewarding career and being a part of it is just awesome.”

The Red Cross’ dental assistant training program is offered on nearly all Army installations, Pierce said. The program is open to high school graduates over the age of 18 with a military ID card.

One of Monday’s graduates, LaShanda Blunt, actually started the program last year when she and her husband were stationed in Alaska. When the Family had a permanent change of station to Fort Hood, she was able to transfer into the program here and complete her training.

The decision to train to become a dental assistant was a career change for Blunt, who had previously completed her degree in criminal justice. She heard about the dental assistant program from a friend and decided to make the change.

“I’m still doing what I initially wanted to do, which is helping others,” she said. “It’s just not in the same way, but I’m still helping others.”

As a military spouse and an Army veteran herself, Blunt is grateful the Army offers opportunities like these.

“This is one of the greatest opportunities,” she said. “It’s an awesome program.”

For Blunt, the most difficult part of the dental assistant program was balancing school, clinic hours and her Family. Her husband is active duty Army and they have two young children.

“During the classroom portion, the hours were long,” she said. “We finished at 1,700, but the homework added to it. But my husband continued to encourage me.”

Blunt actually finished the program requirements in March and has since been working at the Fairbank Dental Clinic on Fort Hood. She encourages other military spouses to take advantage of programs like these that can often make finding a new job after a PCS easier.

“It’s a great opportunity,” she said. “Even if they’re not sure what they want to do, if they want to do something where they’re helping others ... it’s a great opportunity. Go for it.”

For more information on the American Red Cross/Fort Hood Dental Command dental assistant apprentice program, call 254-287-0400.