Dental students assemble 'smile kits' for children, soldiers

Nov. 22, 2006
Organized relief effort to make direct contact with Iraqi children and Maryland National Guard stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The holidays will be a little brighter for members of the Maryland National Guard stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for scores of Iraqi children, thanks to a volunteer faculty member and students at the University of Maryland Dental School.

Robert Strahl, DDS, MS, a volunteer adjunct professor, organized a relief effort called "A Taste of Home" in order to make direct contact with Maryland soldiers and try to make their lives far from home a little easier. He enlisted help for the project from his professional organization, the Maryland State Dental Association, and the Dental School.

On Nov. 16, several student leaders packed "smile kits" containing toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, sugar-free candy and greeting cards-written in Arabic-that will be sent to Maryland troops in Iraq to be distributed to local children. The kits are meant to make life a little sweeter for the youngsters, and will also improve the Maryland troops' relations with the Iraqi citizens.

Other boxes containing boxed and canned food, DVDs and a player, magazines and baby wipes-useful for wiping away the desert sand-are meant for the use of the National Guard's A Co., 2-224 Aviation unit, which is flying Blackhawk helicopters in Iraq and U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan under the command of Brig. Gen. Ed Ballard, UMB's director of public safety. He is a general in the Maryland National Guard, and since July, has been one of the highest ranking Americans in Afghanistan.

Master Sergeant Jeannette Wittman, family program director of the Maryland National Guard, attended the event. Acting University Police Chief Cleveland Barnes also was in attendance, representing Ballard. Procter & Gamble donated boxes of children's toothpaste, toothbrushes, and dental floss.

Other faculty, staff, and students from the Dental School stopped by to sign cards that will be sent to the troops.

Strahl's project, A Taste of Home, Inc., has the mission statement "acts of kindness for Maryland's sons and daughters in harm's way."

He registered ATOH as a charity and runs it with a nonpolitical, nonpartisan tone; he is adamant that the project focuses on supporting the men and women volunteers now serving in combat zones.

For more information about A Taste of Home, Inc., go to