Veterinarians, dogs aid in Iraq military effort
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."