Editorial: Military veterinarians — then and now

This month's cover story gives a snapshot of how two veterinarians who serve in the military are serving our country as well as others. At press time, Captain Ryan Miller, DVM, Arlington, Texas, and Colonel Jim Floyd, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACT, North Carolina State University, are both deployed in Afghanistan with Agriculture Development Teams and are assisting Afghan veterinarians, farmers and the government to implement better animal production systems and improve the sustainability of livestock production as well as strengthen Afghanistan's infrastructure. Miller is on his second deployment and Floyd previously spent 15 months on a mission in the Horn of Africa.

The jobs these two veterinarians are doing are a bit different than when my dad Bruce entered the Army in 1958 as a 1st Lieutenant after veterinary school at Kansas State University. He started off at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, a large Amy medical training facility and attended a medical officers" orientation school that included veterinarians, medical doctors, dentists, nurses and medical services officers. Its function was primarily to acquaint them with the customs and traditions of the military and to receive some medical emergency training.

The Army decided to train some veterinarians to do preventive medicine work on army bases, replacing medical doctors who were doing it. My dad was one of them. Usually, veterinarians were sent to the Meat and Dairy Hygiene school in Chicago to train for duties with food inspection.

Following that, his permanent assignment was assistant post veterinarian, Ft. Jackson, in Columbia, S.C. "My duties were to command a group of veterinary enlisted non-commissioned officers, who were specialists in food inspection and to conduct a veterinary clinic on post for the use by military personnel on the fort," he says. "The clinic's primary function was the control of zoonotic diseases from animals to people, i.e. rabies control, etc. We also held clinics for sick animals, but we were not allowed to do routine surgical procedures (spays), to prevent competition with the civilian veterinarians off post."

Many of the duties he performed then are still performed by military veterinarians today. What's different today are the situations that Miller, Floyd and others are in where they are assisting livestock producers and veterinarians in war-torn countries and in the midst of ongoing political upheaval. It's difficult to imagine that the tools of their trade are a stethoscope in one hand and an M-16 in the other. 

Serving in the military can put valuable professional skills to use. "Food animal veterinarians in particular are well-suited because they, perhaps more than any other single segment of the profession, have an appreciation of the interactions of herd health, public health, food safety and the overall importance of a safe and secure food supply," Floyd notes. 

"Recently, Veterinary Corps officers are increasingly serving in Civil Affairs units or Ag Development Teams where they actively use food animal skills," Floyd adds. "Additionally, the Army Veterinary Corps these days has some really attractive incentives for new and recent graduates to enter the active Army or Reserves."

The military is full of great examples of food animal veterinarians who are serving their country and I'm sorry that I only have the space to give a quick look at a couple of them as there are many more deserving of recognition as well.

One last parting shot from Floyd: "And while I have the chance: Go Army, Beat Navy!" 

Next issue: January 2011



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