AL ASAD, Iraq -- When a new shipment of food comes into the chow hall or a military working dog needs medical care, the office of the Veterinarian Service Support Squad from the 43rd Medical Detachment (Veterinary Services) from Fort Hood, Texas goes to work. While it may seem an odd combination, their mission is to provide veterinary support, food safety inspections and public health support for the Al Anbar province.
The main reasoning behind the multiple missions is that veterinarians are the subject matter experts on animal anatomy and animal disease.
“Veterinarians have a strong background in microbiology, virology, and parasitology,” Boyd said. “Bacteria, viruses, and parasites are the big players in food-borne illnesses.”
The team of soldiers based here and a small detachment at Al Taqaddum are the only veterinarian services personnel for the more than 50 dogs, in the Marine Corps’ area of operations.
“Although taking care of the military working dogs is our main mission we also conduct food inspections and provide public health support,” said Army Capt. Stephanie Boyd, detachment officer-in-charge and veterinarian.
Known for the care of military working dogs, the soldiers spend most of their days conducting food inspections and working with environmental services in controlling animal borne diseases.
“Food safety is important in this austere environment,” said Army Pfc. Chris Kimrey, a veterinary food service inspector and San Antonio, Texas, native. “Places where service members and civilians eat is a real concern for overall public health.”
With wild dogs, snakes and unfamiliar insects running throughout the region, the threat of animal borne illnesses is always present.
“There are a lot of animal borne illnesses here that we are not used to back in the states,” Boyd said. “If someone gets bitten by a wild dog, we work with the doctors who treat the patient in case the dog had rabies or any other type of disease that may infect the victim.”
A major part of the Veterinary Service Support Squad's mission is to visit the many different forward operating bases throughout the Al Anbar province ensuring the military working dogs and food services facilities are up to par.
“We perform about three to five site visits every month,” Boyd said. And while they are few in number she acknowledges that, “At times our manpower can be spread pretty thin, but our team pulls together to accomplish every mission we have. If I’m gone, a veterinary technician will be here in case an animal issue comes up. They are knowledgeable enough to stabilize the animal and transport it to our headquarters in Baghdad for further treatment.”
The military working dogs are treated very well from the moment they join the military forces. Even when it comes to their health, the dogs receive first rate medical service.
“There have been cases where we have had to medically evacuate a dog all the way to Germany, where it can receive more specialized care,” Boyd said. “They get treated just like anyone else serving out here. If one of them is injured, we will do all we can to make sure it receives the best care available.”
Fortunately, there have not been any traumatic injuries to the working dogs during their deployment.
“Our worst cases have been dogs that either came down with a serious case of pneumonia or the occasional sprained foot or leg. The dog’s eagerness to please their owners sometimes causes them to over do it.”
For a lot of the soldiers in the Veterinary Service Support Squad, this is their first operation with other services. Here they are able to gain experience of working with different military branches. Since the Army is the only service with veterinarians, having such a valuable opportunity to work with Marines, sailors and airmen is a lesson in teamwork.
“We work with the Air Force and Marine dog handlers and get support from the Navy hospital here,” Boyd said. “They let us use their X-ray machines and give me the ability to do blood work.”
The Veterinary Service Support Squad soldiers, confident in the support of their fellow services, are poised to accomplish any task needed to support the Marines, military working dogs and the forward deployed 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. Whether they are conducting food inspections or tending to the medical needs of their canine friends, their service is important to mission success.