01 Jan Ofer Eitan Suggest: DVIDS – News – Soldier, Sailor, Surgeon
Currently the oldest military member aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), at 67 years of age, Capt. Stephen Paulette, also known as “JAWDOC,” has enjoyed a long and rewarding career full of challenge, growth and accomplishment.
“Captain is a really kind person who cares about his people,” said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Wilfredo Amaya, Paulette’s dental technician. “He always has our best interest at heart when it comes to the clinic and the people in the clinic.”
After almost 25 years of military service, Paulette checked aboard Abraham Lincoln as the oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Navy oral and maxillofacial surgeons diagnose and treat infection, diseases, injuries and defects involving the functional and aesthetic aspects of the oral and facial bones.
Paulette said he loves being on ships because there are so many people working together. He stresses how important every rate is and that a ship couldn’t operate as well without every person on the team. His job as a dentist is to ensure no Sailor is inhibited on the job because of oral pain.
“Everybody is here for a reason,” said Paulette. “It takes a whole team to make this thing happen. If one person doesn’t do it, the whole thing starts to fall apart.”
In 1974, Paulette began his military service in the U.S. Army as a 2nd Lt. as he continued dental school on the health profession scholarship. Upon graduation, he reported to Fort Bragg as an Army dentist, where he took care of children in the pediatric dentist office.
“I like the military,” said Paulette. “My dad served in World War II and my mom lived through Pearl Harbor, so I got the military background and patriotism from them.”
Once out of the Army in 1997, Paulette joined the Navy Reserves for about 10 years before switching to active-duty Navy. During this time Paulette donated a kidney to a young, single mother who works at his dental office at the suggestion of his wife.
“The hard part was writing all my kids a ‘goodbye’ letter that my wife suggested,” said Paulette. “She would only give them to my kids if I died in surgery.”
While applying for this transition from reserves to active duty Navy in 2009, the Navy had to weigh the benefits of his skills against his age of 57 and having only one kidney. Ultimately though, the Navy accepted him to active-duty once again because of his highly-sought, specialized surgical abilities.
Paulette’s family has always supported his continued service. He has seven children, including one adopted son. He and his wife adopted their son, Ephrail Harrell, when he was in high school after helping get him out of a bad living situation.
“We call them his, hers and ours––Brady Bunch style,” said Paulette.
Two of Paulette’s sons have followed in his footsteps by joining the military. Matt is an Army green beret who recently commissioned to be a combat medic and Ephrail, his adopted son, joined the Army as a sniper before transferring to the Army Reserves.
The roots of military service run deep in Paulette’s family. Paulette has served with the Army and Marines and aboard four Navy aircraft carriers including the USS Enterprise (CVN 65). The Enterprise is special to him because, as a young boy scout, he toured Enterprise following her commissioning. Fast forward 51 years, and he found himself aboard the same ship during the 50-year milestone celebration and her last deployment.
Paulette said he has always had a passion for people and for teaching. During his time as chairman of the post graduate dental school of oral surgery in Bethesda, Maryland, he taught students and trained practicing dentists, a practice he continues with his dental technicians.
“Captain took the time to teach me and made me understand it is a team effort to do surgery,” said Amaya. “I feel like he gives me a lot of respect to allow for me to grow as a leader and learn how to manage.”
Once he turns 68 aboard Abraham Lincoln, JAWDOC will retire. However, he will become “retire-retained” so he can stay aboard until it reaches San Diego. Despite this upcoming finish line, Paulette arrived at the ship wanting to complete the workup cycle and what will be his fourth carrier deployment. In fact, Paulette was offered one-year orders to Abraham Lincoln, but because he hates to leave projects unfinished, he negotiated for two-year orders.
After Paulette’s time aboard Lincoln is over, he will retire from the military. His plan is to work with his wife at their dental surgery practice in Harrisonburg, Virginia, so he can continue to help people with their dental needs.
“I will miss the Navy,” said Paulette. “I’m going to miss these young people and the enthusiasm. I’m constantly telling these young kids, don’t burn your bridges to the Navy; get out on a good note because you never know when you might need or want it.”