About 780 veterinarians are deployed or working in 90 countries to support combat and stationed troops. They service hundreds of working dogs and an array of mountain mules in addition to their food-safety responsibilities, research and development. They've been doing so for nine decades.
Veterinarians celebrated 90 years of venturing into harm's way to support the warfighter in June. The U.S. Army Veterinary Services Corps has participated in every U.S. military conflict since World War I, and its importance dates back to revolutionary times when Gen. George Washington demanded the establishment of a regimen of horse farriers.
Just 57 veterinarians worked for the Army when the corps was formally established in April 1917; within 18 months, the new division boasted 2,313 officers.
The Army quickly recognized the important role veterinarians needed to fulfill as food-safety monitors, and veterinary unit commanders and their personnel are critical in effecting remarkably low food-borne illness rates.
Here are a couple of their stories:
Captain Angela K. Parker, DVM
Years in service: 4; "I hope to make a career serving my country in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps."
What is the best part of your job? The best part of my job in the veterinary corps is the diversity of the missions and the travel. Not only do we perform traditional veterinary medicine, but we are also exposed to several other aspects of the profession. As a young veterinarian directly out of school, I had the opportunity to manage my own veterinary clinic, perform numerous sanitary audits of commercial food establishments and was in charge of veterinary services for three installations in the Midwest. Then I had the opportunity to move to Germany and traveled throughout Europe performing missions in several countries. Currently, I am deployed to Iraq where I have the awesome responsibility for the health and welfare of all the Military Working Dogs and service members serving in my area of operations. There aren't very many veterinarians that get to experience the world, serve their country in the armed services and work in several different aspects of veterinary medicine at the same time.
From World War I to Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterinarians have protected food supplies and serviced military animals.
What is the most difficult operationally? Emotionally? Operationally I would have to say practicing medicine in a far-forward deployed setting of an underdeveloped country. There are not the luxuries of state-of-the-art equipment and supplies available, and even keeping sterility is a concern in such environments as Iraq. It is not as easy as jumping in a car and driving down to the local clinic to get treatment. A lot of times, you have to adapt, improvise and overcome to treat your patients in the best possible way and learn to make it happen with what you have available in these remote and isolated areas. That being said, the challenges of deployment medicine is what keeps it interesting and fun and develops your resourcefulness in less than ideal situations.
Emotionally, it has been spending a year in a combat zone where death is a daily occurrence. It is hard to describe the emotions one goes through to see a service member give their life fighting for their country and for another country's freedom without any reservation. Nothing can make me prouder and yet so deeply saddened at the same time. Also being away from family and friends for such a long period of time is difficult emotionally for every soldier.
CPT Brenton R. Arihood, a Vietnam-era DVM with the 175th Med Det, listens to the heart of a K-9 sentry dog during its monthly exam.
What has been your proudest achievement? Serving my country in Iraq for a year, providing the best veterinary service support to my Military Working Dogs and fellow service members and bringing all of my soldiers back home safely.