Dental Surgeon Petra Kurth takes the helm
Mediterranean Sea 28 February 2012: When Dental Surgeon Petra Kurth received a phone call to
say that German frigate FTG Rheinland-Pfalz needed a dentist for her Mediterranean deployment as part of Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 she had no hesitation in accepting. That was despite being an Army dental surgeon and having spent no time at sea.
"I am head dentist at the barracks in Bad Neuenahr on the River Ahr and I had applied for an operational deployment as I was very keen to get some mission experience. When the call came I said ‘yes' immediately,” said 29-year-old Petra Kurth.
"It was too good a chance to miss although I knew I was going to be in for a very different experience. I wondered how I would cope with the lack of space and privacy. Yes, yes, I was seasick at first and it took a few weeks to really get my bearings but I now feel as though I am fully involved in an international level operation and not on a training cruise.”
"I came aboard with a humble approach, understanding that I would be simply the ship's dentist and that I would get some good experience under my belt. Well I found out that I would have dental health responsibilities for the whole Group. This was my way of learning how much is shared between the different ships in the Group and has helped me appreciate the coherence there is in the concept of the Standing NATO Maritime Groups.”
Soon after joining the ship, Dr.Kurth found herself involved in Proud Manta 12, NATO biggest annual anti-submarine warfare exercise. "That's when I discovered what it is like to be a dentist with the ship dodging and dashing at high speed in response to submarine contacts. Not quite ideal surgery conditions but some more of that ‘experience' I was looking for.”
And the crew of Rheinland-Pfalz is determined to make a sailor of Dr. Kurth. "I was standing on the bridge watching events when suddenly I was handed a microphone and a pair of binoculars and an invitation to conduct a man-overboard manoeuvre. Yes, the ship's navigator talked me through the process but I was quite proud to recover that poor dummy-in-distress anyway.”
"Really events like that are just part of the extraordinary sense of camaraderie that I have found aboard this ship. She is an old-style ship and space is scarce. Everyone has to work together. There is real team spirit and that spreads from ship to ship in the Group, I believe.”
"I would recommend this experience to all my medical colleagues in the German Armed Forces. We are now embarking on Operation Active Endeavour – that's going to be very intense operations for a few weeks – but toothache is intense too and I can deal with both of them.”
By LtCdr Heinrich Christian Großheim FGS Rheinland-Pfalz PAO