Veterinary training served top-ranking military officer well

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Gen. Casey
Brig. Gen. Theresa M. Casey

The highest-ranked Air Force veterinarian will retire after more than 27 years of distinguished service.

Brig. Gen. Theresa M. Casey is the assistant surgeon general for modernization in the Office of the Air Force Surgeon General at Air Force headquarters in Falls Church, Va. In this role she oversees Air Force Medical Service research programs, the modernization of medical equipment, and fielding information management applications and technology. For much of her career, she served as an Air Force public health officer.

Gen. Casey was the first active duty general in the Air Force to represent the Biomedical Sciences Corps. The BSC is the third largest branch of the Air Force Medical Service, with more than 2,400 personnel and up to 17 specialties, including public health and bioenvironmental engineering. More than 80 veterinarians serve as public health officers.

In 1983, the Air Force Veterinary Corps was eliminated from the Air Force, and the remaining veterinarians entered the BSC, and now serve as public health officers.

Though her present role is exclusively administrative, Gen. Casey said she references her veterinary training—both care of the individual and herd—daily in the support of Air Force Medical Service modernization. For example, she has worked on the development of rapid diagnostics for disease outbreak detection as well as information management applications to monitor the health status of active duty airmen.

In past assignments, Gen. Casey said veterinary training on zoonoses, vectorborne disease, and parasitology was invaluable during deployments to Eastern Europe and Africa and during recovery operations following Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She also drafted plans for a foot-and-mouth disease response in 2001 in West Germany, and more recently, plans for an avian influenza response in the U.S.

Effective Jan. 1, 2010, Gen. Casey will retire from her position.

Gen. Casey grew up in a military family—her father was an Air Force chief master sergeant who served nearly 25 years. Her desire to become a veterinarian started in high school when her horse sustained an injury at a late-night rodeo event.

"It required several phone calls to find an equine vet on call, and I decided it would be easier and faster if I was my own veterinarian," Gen. Casey said. "The idea stuck well and was my singular goal through high school and undergraduate education."

Gen. Casey graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1982 and began her career as a public health officer. Since then, she has held faculty positions at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, served at two major command headquarters, and participated in the Joint Task Force Shining Hope. This involved assisting nongovernmental and international organizations with humanitarian relief to Kosovo refugees in the republic of Albania and Macedonia. The general has commanded a squadron, an air expeditionary group, and two military medical hospitals. Gen. Casey is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine.

One of the most unique opportunities, she said, was leading a 200-person multidisciplinary team on a humanitarian exercise in the African nation of the Republic of Cameroon, treating 19,000 people in two weeks.

Gen. Casey said the most gratifying part of her job is to see how dedicated the military women and men are to their roles in serving the U.S., taking care of their patients, and growing personally and professionally.

"It has also been especially gratifying to demonstrate the worth of veterinarians in the maintenance of human health," she said.