EVERETT — Some people get out their checkbooks when they want to help people overseas.
Dr. Philip Clark joined the Air National Guard.
The Everett dentist just returned from a two-week humanitarian mission with the Air National Guard reserves to Uganda.
There, he spent 14 hours a day caring for Africans with agonizing mouth pain caused by decay and disease. Thousands lined up to see him and other American medical professionals.
The experience, he said, reminded him that America is the best place on Earth.
“All my patients have been really supportive,” he said. “They understand if I’m gone it’s because I’m doing something that needs to be done.”
His work was part of a larger humanitarian mission meant to help the Uganda government regain the trust of its people. Other U.S. servicemen and women helped with projects such as building schools and roads in the east African country.
Clark, 46, traveled with a medical detachment that included doctors and optometrists.
It’s humanitarian missions like these that drew Clark into the reserves in 2005.
“I just felt like I should give something back,” he said.
He runs a civilian dental practice on Evergreen Way in Everett. At any time, the military can call him to duty to help stateside or abroad. He’s filled in as a dentist on a U.S. base in Germany, treating American airmen.
His position with the 194th Medical Group stationed at Camp Murray Air Guard Base also took him on another humanitarian mission to Cambodia in 2008, where he performed dental surgeries in a concrete shell in the middle of the jungle.
“We’re there to help them out and try to make their country a better place,” he said.
In the Air National Guard, Clark has found dentists are in short supply. Most dentists avoid the military for fear of deployment, he said. Some dentists not only avoid the military because of the cut in pay and the danger of overseas work, but for what it does for a practice to be gone unexpectedly for months, he said.
He’s able to serve because he shares a practice with his father, who can care for his patients if he’s called overseas. In fact, Clark is one member of a large family of dentists that includes his sister, uncle and cousins.
In Uganda, Clark traveled to clinics in the northern part of the country, an area torn apart by fighting and horrendous abuses by rebel fighters.
The Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, has waged one of Africa’s longest and most violent rebellions. Tens of thousands of murders, mutilations and kidnapping of children for use as soldiers have been attributed to the rebel group.
Clark saw the results in his brief time in the country, including children who’d had their lips cut off and limbs amputated.
Still, he found the people and the land beautiful. Northern Uganda is the site of the headwater of the Nile. The countryside is a patchwork of cultivated land, rolling hills, tall mountains and dense jungle.
Clinic conditions were far different than his sterile but cheery office in Everett.
He worked in clinics that had no running water or electricity. Since the light was better outside, he worked standing up outdoors all day, a headlamp strapped to his forehead, while patients sat in plastic lawn chairs.
Ugandan soldiers ringed the clinic, while a line of thousands of people waited for treatment. Everyone he saw badly needed his skills. He saw mouths ravaged by the effects of AIDS and other diseases.
He saw as many as 25 patients a day, usually stopping when the days’ ration of medicine ran out.
Clark’s next trip may be to Morocco this spring, although he could be called up at any time.
That’s OK with him.
His bags are already packed.
Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, email@example.com