Captain Marcelene Perera didn’t realise how much he enjoyed working as a dental officer until he had to set it aside when deployed to Melbourne for COVID-19 taskings.

After studying three years of biomedical science and four years of dentistry, including two under Army sponsorship, 2nd General Health Battalion’s Captain Perera completed his Specialist Service Officer training and was ready to get on the tools.

“By the time I got to Brisbane the restrictions were ramping up, clinics had shut and we were really limited in seeing patients,” Captain Perera said.

Three months later, he was leading a team in Melbourne, swabbing people for COVID-19.

“On a Friday morning I was told I might be going, and by Saturday midday we were travelling,” Captain Perera said. 

“I was new to Army, in a new environment with a joint team, working closely with public health services. For a dental officer to be doing that in their first year is unheard of.

“It was so removed from what I do day-to-day and I had to be ready to take up new tasks as they came in. It was a challenge, but a rewarding one.”

The team alternated between two testing centres for five weeks before helping set up the Frankston drive-through testing centre. 

Here, Captain Perera helped develop infection control processes and continued testing for the following five weeks.

Being deployed in my first year, out of nowhere, those are the experiences I joined up for.

“We set up processes that are still in effect, ensuring the continued safe testing of the public,” he said.

“In the first couple of weeks, we were testing between 600 to 1000 people a day, depending on what was happening in the community. 

“If there was an outbreak in a hospital, we would be inundated with people getting tested and then it would be quiet again when case numbers started dropping.” 

Having grown up in Melbourne, Captain Perera said he was honoured to be back serving the community. 

“Being deployed in my first year, out of nowhere, those are the experiences I joined up for,” he said.

“Going back to my home city, now in uniform, and being able to give back to the community I grew up in, it was incredible.”

Since returning to 2nd General Health Battalion, and with restrictions easing, Captain Perera has enjoyed getting back to his calling. 

“It’s brilliant to build up my skills and get my hands on the tools again,” he said. 

“I didn’t miss the clinic when I was deployed, but being back to seeing patients now, it’s lovely to feel like a dentist again.”