Alex is all that she can be ...
Military life set the stage for a busy professional lifestyle.
Joanee Iannone Sheehan, RDH
When I called Dionne Alex Morris, I was surprised by the warm and friendly voice on her answering machine. It was not what I expected after viewing a photograph of her in boxing gloves. Still, that is just one side of the multi-faceted "Alex," as she prefers to be called.
She was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, the oldest of three girls. Since the was age of seven, she has been interested in the dental field. Her dream was to become a dentist. Upon graduating high school, she was accepted at Case Western Reserve University as an undergrad. She wanted to study pre-dental, but finances would not allow it. So she put her dental dreams on hold and opted to join the Army Reserve.
"I was 19 years old when the Army trained me as the driver of a 14-ton 18-wheeler. I was assigned to the 762nd Transportation Unit in North Canton, Ohio, and soon we were off to the Gulf War, based in KKMC (King Kalad Military City) in Saudi Arabia. Our mission was to transport food and supplies to the front lines."
I asked her if she had seen any action over there.
"One time we were transporting ammunition to the front, and a Patriot missile intercepted a Scud missile directly overhead. All the wreckage came raining down on us and our truck! Then we had to put our gas masks on because of the threat of a possible gas attack."
Alex survived Desert Storm to get home for the Fourth of July in 1991. After a period of settling down, her daughter De`Ja was born and her life now took on another dimension. But she was loving every minute of it. A short time later, a recommendation by a high school teacher, Mrs. Scott, led her to apply to Cuyahoga Community College to study dental hygiene. Because she was now a veteran, the Army paid for her student loan. Upon graduating in 1994 with an associates` degree in dental hygiene, she moved to Charlotte, N.C.
When I caught up with Alex, she had made quite a life for herself.
"I`ve been in the Army Reserve for almost 11 years now and hold the grade of sergeant first class," she told me. "That`s an E-7, but I`m up for E-8 soon. I`m currently working as a senior dental instructor at the Caldwell Dental Center, Ft. Jackson (South Carolina). It takes one and a half hours to get to Ft. Jackson from Charlotte. I drive there two weekends out of the month for training drills. I have to go every other weekend instead of just once a month because there is so much information to cover in the dental curriculum. I train soldiers who want to change their job title and perform the duties of a dental professional. These are not new recruits. They just want to change what they`ve been doing. The main objectives of the class consist of dental assisting in the civilian world and in the field environment."
I asked her how she knew all about assisting, having received her degree in dental hygiene.
"We have manuals..." she laughed, "big, thick manuals to teach everything from identification of different instruments to burs, types of procedures, and what the doctor needs and when. In my leadership classes, I teach counseling skills, integrating team work and field exercises. The students are given a situation to solve. I grade them on it by using a certain standard."
"Alex is outstanding in her profession in the military and as an RDH," Master Sgt. Hester Robinson told me. "She is the prime example of what a young woman can do in today`s world by setting her goals and achieving them. But with all her interests, she is loyal to the dental profession, and the patients love her because she is a personable person. Although I`m her supervisor, if we could exchange roles, I would want her as my mentor. She is truly unique ... I don`t know anyone like her."
Alex also practices dental hygiene five days a week at a civilian office for family dentistry. But every day before work, she runs two to three miles to stay in good condition.
"I compare flossing to working out. Patients start out flossing right after their cleaning, then slack off. It`s one of the hardest habits to develop."
She loves her job and can relate to whoever sits in her dental chair.
"If I get an older male patient, we talk about the Army. If I get a young person, we talk about keeping fit or motorcycles, my new hobby. I ride a Suzuki 1300. And I can relate to the kids because I have an 8-year-old and I coach 4- to 6-year-olds in basketball from October to March every year."
I interrupted, "Whoa! Did you say you ride a 1300!? That`s a lot of bike!"
"Yes it is," Alex laughed. "It`s almost as long as my Chrysler Sebring. But it was my first bike and I love it. It sure handles differently with an adult on the back though! I`ve also ridden a Bimoata and Ducati."
I also spoke with her employer, Dr. Detra Brooks, who works with Alex in the University Area in Charlotte, N.C. I wanted to know if serving in the Reserves had ever hindered Alex`s performance in the office on Monday morning after a weekend of training.
"Not at all, Alex is always energetic. I don`t feel like we`re competing with the Reserve or any of her interests for Alex`s best. When she`s here, she`s focused on what she`s doing here. She strives for excellence in whatever she does."
The doctor admitted that she could not possibly keep up the pace Alex has set for herself and prefers the word "friend" to "employee" when referring to Alex.
"Actually, Alex and I worked together in another office before she left and came to this office. When she told me about her new office, I looked into working there. Now we have two doctors and two hygienists here, and I enjoy working with her again."
To add a little more variety in her life and to stay physically fit, Alex has gotten involved in cardio-kickboxing. I asked her how it differed from the regular kickboxing that the rest of us hygienists do...
"The owner of American Martial Arts, Jim Rose, likes to call it cardio-kickboxing, which is like Tae Bo. It`s a 50-minute workout. In regular kickboxing, they actually kick each other. With cardio-kickboxing, there`s a lot of aerobics involved, and you`re kicking and throwing air punches, but never connecting with anyone. It`s a great workout ranging from low to high impact. It`s fast paced and nobody gets hurt. It helps me to stay in shape and keeps me mentally focused."
Alex seems to be a born teacher and again she is working in the role of instructor.
"I`m a cardio-kickboxing instructor for American Martial Arts (AMA) in Charlotte," she told me. "I`m here Monday through Thursday evenings and I`ve been with AMA for two years now."
Dr. Brooks tried it. "I`ve been to some of her classes," she said. "It`s a great workout and she`s good; she lets you set your own pace."
In addition to cardio-kickboxing, she also takes martial arts. It`s a requirement for all instructors at AMA. Alex confessed, "It`s easy recruiting for martial arts and dental hygiene, with everyone into fitness and improving their smiles!"
I was wondering how many patients dared to be no-shows in her book. I spoke with Nikki Crowder, a dental assistant who works with Alex.
"Alex has discussed cardio-kickboxing with a few patients because they were interested in it. But they are not intimidated by her. They open up to her and relax because she is so outgoing and friendly."
Is Nikki into cardio-kickboxing too? No, she`s leaning more towards yoga.
You might think all this activity would be enough to satisfy anyone`s dream of a full life. But not Alex. She and her daughter were modeling and acting for a talent agency last year until another dream was realized. After helping recruit many people for the agency, she took the advice of friends and started her own. She called her business "Natural Faces" and in February 1999, it hit the ground running. Two weeks after she got her license to open, she got a call from the Disney people needing extras for their movie "Brookstone," which is soon to be released. Her models have also been extras in the CBS movie, "Shake, Rattle, and Roll." Next, her agency supplied extras for the movie about the 104 and 109 year-old Delany sisters, titled, "Having Our Say."
"I`m in constant contact with the casting people, and they choose faces from our portfolios to suit their needs," Alex explained.
Her 8-year-old daughter, De`Ja, is also a model and has had the only speaking role to date. She has been filmed in Paramount`s Carowinds commercial and also is in a Hardee`s commercial. She`s a natural. In the brief conversation we had, I was laughing, then teary-eyed.
"I like to be in the movies and commercials. I got to sit in the front seat of The Taxi Jam!"
"Did your taxi get caught in traffic?"
"Noooo. The Taxi Jam. I got to sit in the front seat!"
"You sat in the front seat with the taxi driver?"
"Noooooooo. The Taxi Jam is the rollercoaster in the Carowinds commercial!"
"Ah! Now I understand!"
" It was fun!" smiled De`Ja, relieved.
When I asked De`Ja what she thought about her Mom being in the Reserve, she was very honest with me.
"When Mommy went away for a whole week once, I got homesick for her and I cried. But that was when I was 7. Now I`m 8. It`s better now."
If at all possible, Alex arranges her weeks of training while De`Ja is visiting relatives on summer vacation. De`Ja is the light of her mother`s life. Alex told me that she tries to expose her daughter to different things so she won`t be afraid to try something new. She`s raising De`Ja to be a future leader. Alex couldn`t resist boasting about her 8 year-old, stifled only by warnings of the word count and subject of this profile.
"De`Ja is an honor roll student in third grade, getting straight A`s," Alex added. She`s involved in cheerleading, basketball, and drama classes. And in the evenings, she takes martial arts with me."
"And the boys don`t even know it," whispered De`Ja.
Alex`s mother, Brenda Alexander, is also very proud of her daughter and all that she has accomplished so far in her life.
"Alex has always been ambitious, even as a child," her mother told me. "After she accomplishes one thing, she goes on to the next." But even with Alex`s unrelenting schedule, she still makes time to go home to Ohio four times a year to visit her mother.
I asked Alex what`s next. What new interest will she explore tomorrow? She`s planning to become a manicurist. She says keeping busy with interesting things is her way of avoiding boredom and fighting burnout.
Interviewing Alex has been as frustrating as chasing butterflies in the wind. Just try to catch her! Dionne Alex Morris thrives on the demands of her overactive life.
"I just love it!" she crowed, her exuberance showing. "I wake up each morning excited about the day to come. If I wasn`t busy, I`d be twiddling my thumbs ... bored! I love it all, but my family will always rank #1 in my life, with the dental profession coming in #2."
`If I get a young person, we talk about keeping fit or motorcycles, my new hobby. I ride a Suzuki 1300.`
`With cardio-kickboxing, there`s a lot of aerobics involved, and you`re kicking and throwing air punches, but never connecting with anyone. ... It helps me to stay in shape and keeps me mentally focused.`