Veterinarians help protect soldiers in Operation Enduring Freedom

Published on June 15, 2002
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Stars and Stripes
Dr. Craig Carter, lieutenant colonel, examines Brenda
with the help of her handler, Jaromir Josipovic.

Negotiating the rocky terrain and extreme weather of Afghanistan, Brenda, a mine-detecting German Shepherd Dog, and her handler, Jaromir Josipovic, the second in line of three generations of Bosnian mine detectors, risked their lives to find land mines left behind by decades of war.

Their efforts, along with those of the many other canine and handler teams participating in Operation Enduring Freedom, have helped to protect soldiers and civilians from dangerous explosives and have gained international attention.

But their mission would not have been possible without the aid of the military veterinarians and veterinary technicians working to keep the dogs in top shape.

Dr. Craig Carter, a lieutenant colonel and commander of the U.S. Army's 994th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services, and his 24-person team were the first reserve veterinary forces deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom. The team comprises eight veterinarians and 17 veterinary technicians and food safety inspection technicians.

They were called to duty in January and are currently serving in eight countries and nine locations, according to Dr. Carter, who before he was deployed was the head of epidemiology and informatics at the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratories at Texas A&M University. Their mission is twofold: to care for military dogs that detect land mines and explosives, and patrol military bases; and to ensure the safety and quality of the food being served to U.S. soldiers.

The military dogs, primarily German Shepherd Dogs and Belgian Malinois, require the same preventive and restorative care that all dogs require, plus additional care to deal with the challenges these dogs face in the field, Dr.Carter said.

"In Southwest Asia, these animals are exposed to all extremes—temperatures from way below zero to more than 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Heatstroke is a constant threat," he said. "Respiratory problems due to blowing sand and dust are also a problem. Foot pad injuries are also common with the hot conditions and often difficult, rocky surfaces to navigate."

The animals are frequently rotated in and out of the field and require examinations before they can return to the United States, Carter added.

Veterinarians and technicians also monitor the soldiers' food supply.

"We also prevent injuries by ensuring that all food consumed is from approved sources and is shipped, received, stored, prepared, and served in a wholesome manner," Dr. Carter said.

These professionals monitor food deliveries to make sure that temperature and time requirements are met, and that there is no evidence of tampering by the enemy. Often these veterinarians must declare expensive shipments of food unfit to protect soldiers from the possibility of foodborne illnesses.

"Historically, nonbattle incidents, such as foodborne illnesses, cause more injuries and deaths than all the bullets and bombs put together," Dr.Carter said.

Despite the challenges of working under difficult conditions—language barriers, temperature extremes, lack of sanitary facilities, in addition to the dangers of being kidnapped or attacked—Dr. Carter said he and his team find the work rewarding.

"The main reward is having the honor and privilege of serving our country at a great time of need. Furthermore, it gives us great pride to provide medical care for these incredible animals that save untold human lives through their work," Dr. Carter said.

"Finally, it is very rewarding to know that we helped to ensure that all food consumed in the theatre of operations is safe and wholesome, thereby preventing serious food borne illnesses."

This month, the AVMA House of Delegates will consider a resolution to commend all veterinarians who are in active or reserve duty in the Uniformed Services of the United States who are supporting and participating in Operation Noble Eagle (homeland defense) and Operation Enduring Freedom.