Cleveland-As the United States military pounded Iraqi resistance in Baghdad, Army veterinarians were aiding military operations
just behind the frontlines.
U.S. Navy, Master at Arms 2nd Class Phillip Darity, a U.S. Navy dog handler, issues commands to his military working dog,
Argo, while conducting a training drill at Camp Patriot, Kuwait. Officials estimate about 50 veterinarians are in the Middle
East caring for these dogs.
According to U.S. Central Command Col. M. Scott Cornwell, DVM, the army has about 50 veterinarians operating in the military
theaters in both Iraq/Kuwait and Afghanistan.
The military veterinarian's role is one of food safety/sanitation and caring for the estimated 200 military dogs working around
the war zones.
At presstime, DVM Newsmagazine interviewed Major Kelley Evans, DVM, via e-mail during the operation in Iraq. Evans was stationed
in Camp Doha in Kuwait when ground forces punched through Iraq and toppled Baghdad. Evans is from Oakland, Md. and a Virginia-Maryland
Regional College of Veterinary Medicine graduate.
Maj. Kelley Evans, DVM, stationed in Kuwait during the Iraq war says that much of her job focused on food safety in addition
to caring for military working dogs.
Evans says, "The most difficult part of being here right now is sitting in the 'rear with the gear' and not being on the front
lines. Camp Doha has been the target of many missile attacks since the war began. Lucky for us, the Iraqis are bad shots,
and we have highly skilled Patriot missile batteries to shoot missiles down."
Evans' very special "gear" is the 25 or so military working dogs (German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and other breeds), trained
to patrol, and sniff out mines and bombs.
Cornwell adds that the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps is the Department of Defense's executive agent for veterinary service support
to all of the U.S. armed forces. In other words, they medically treat all of the military working dogs, horses and marine
mammals for all the military branches.
Lt. Col. Craig Carter, DVM (left) examines one of the military working dogs trained for sniffing out explosives and sentry
duty in Afghanistan. Heat stress in a 130-degree Fahrenheit environment was a top health concern for military DVMs, as it
is in Iraq.
Public health role
Another extremely important contribution veterinarians make to the armed services is public health, including food safety
and hygiene, Cornwell explains. Evans adds that about 98 percent of veterinarians' missions in the theater right now is focused
on food inspection. She says her branch recently inspected $8.2 million worth of the humanitarian daily rations in the U.S.
aid package for the Iraqi people.
Terrorist threats are very real. Explosives are a major concern, but so too is sabotage of food or water for the troops.
Evans explains that food is coming in from all over the world, and therefore a challenge to make certain it is Army-approved
and not tampered with.
While the Air Force has many veterinarians, they are public health officers and do not get involved with day-to-day animal
A veterinary clinic in Afghanistan was set up to care for the military working dogs in that region.
Cornwell adds that veterinarians will be extremely important when military efforts turn to reconstruction of Iraq. Not only
will more dogs be called on to sniff out land mines following the war, civil affairs veterinarians will be asked to help rebuild
the agriculture infrastructure in the country.
Lt. Col. Craig Carter, DVM, of Texas A&M University's veterinary college, completed a tour in both Afghanistan and Kuwait.
He says that military working dogs play a crucial role in protecting people.
"They are everywhere you look. Where security is needed so are the dogs."
Carter explains, "In Afghanistan, there was a lot of mine detection and explosive detection work going on over there. The
Russians left 10 million mines when they bailed out of Afghanistan. They are extremely dangerous around Kandahar, where we
were put in with U.S. and coalition forces. Military working dogs are essential to making that happen."
The job of ferreting out explosives is dangerous, but trauma from a mine explosion is a rare event, reports Dr. Craig Carter.
Evans explains, "Military working dogs play a very critical role in force protection in this theater. All of the U.S. military
working dogs are dual certified-all are patrol certified as well as certified in either explosives or narcotics detection.
Evans adds, "These dogs are one of the few items in the military force protection arsenal that increase in the amount they
are worth as they age versus depreciating. Of course, you can never put a price on a life that is saved because of what these
Carter explains that the dogs are coming into the theater in tiptop shape. But operating in extreme conditions where it can
range from 130-degrees Fahrenheit in some areas, heat stress is a big concern.
"You really had to watch the work/rest cycles for some of these animals."
In Afghanistan, mines and unexploded ordnance are far too common. The Russians reportedly left 10 million mines during their
occupation of the country.
Carter also added that some upper respiratory problems were pretty common because the sand is so fine.
"It is almost like talcum powder. It gets into everything, including their respiratory tree."
Carter says that the health problems typically were not severe. Trauma is actually a rare event.
"For the most part, these dogs amazed me in the environment. I expected more heat-related problems, but the handlers followed
the work/rest cycles very closely."