Veterinarians, dogs aid in Iraq military effort

Veterinarians, dogs aid in Iraq military effort

May 01, 2003

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.
Cleveland-As the United States military pounded Iraqi resistance in Baghdad, Army veterinarians were aiding military operations just behind the frontlines.

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.
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.

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.

A veterinary clinic in Afghanistan was set up to care for the military working dogs in that region.
While the Air Force has many veterinarians, they are public health officers and do not get involved with day-to-day animal treatment.

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.

Terrorist hunt 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."

The job of ferreting out explosives is dangerous, but trauma from a mine explosion is a rare event, reports Dr. Craig Carter.
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."

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 dogs do."

Taking care 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.

In Afghanistan, mines and unexploded ordnance are far too common. The Russians reportedly left 10 million mines during their occupation of the country.
"You really had to watch the work/rest cycles for some of these animals."

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."

Evans agrees.