By Capt. Chris Magee May 31, 2017
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- The Army Medical Department accomplishes amazing things every day around the world -- but one of its most fascinating components just might be the US Army Veterinary Corps.
From its humble beginnings in 1776 -- when General Washington directed that a "regiment of horse with a farrier" be raised -- to its official commissioning on June 3, 1916, the Corps has evolved into a food safety, public health, research, and veterinary health force that serves all branches of the Department of Defense. The Corps works not only to conserve the fighting strength of valued four-legged warriors, but supports the upright forces as well.
Why does the Army have a Veterinary Corps? The obvious reason is animal care. While the Corps' top priority is providing healthcare to Military Working Dogs, these Army veterinarians also look after the personal pets of both active duty and retired Soldiers and their families. They are also responsible for the health and wellbeing of the armed forces' ceremonial cavalry and caisson horse units throughout the country.
The Veterinary Corps also provides world-class animal care services to civilian communities, both domestically and abroad. Members of the Corps dedicate their time to local shelters through volunteer work and Veterinary Readiness Training Exercises, providing routine exams, administering treatments, and conducting lifesaving surgeries for civilian animal populations -- often at no cost to the animals' human companions.
A visit to the veterinary clinic at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., demonstrates some of the amazing work that US Army veterinarians provide every day. The clinic has nearly 3,000 active patient records and conducts an average of 25 to 30 appointments each day. The veterinarians offer wellness exams, health certificates for travel, vaccines, x-rays, ultrasound, surgeries and dental cleanings, among other procedures. While the clinic's patients are usually dogs and cats, a variety of other animals -- goats, llamas, chickens, ducks, ferrets and rabbits -- have visited the clinic as well. If a Soldier has a pet in need, the clinic will serve them, regardless of the species!
In addition to providing for animal wellness, the Veterinary Corps also plays an active role in human food safety and defense. Veterinarians at many bases are responsible for food inspection, ensuring that quality food is delivered to dining facilities and commissaries at military posts across the country.
This increasing role in public health and safety evolved from Army veterinarians' recognition of the importance of collaboration among various medical and environmental sciences. A particular Corps initiative, "One Health," recognizes the vital connection between human health, animal health, and the health of the environment, and promotes further study and advancement of the wellbeing of those three intertwined elements.
A tangible development of the One Health program resulted in a partnership at Ft. Leonard Wood on rabies prevention. The veterinary clinic there is in constant communication with the base's hospital if any human patient is bitten by an animal, to ensure that the victim is not at risk for rabies, or to advise on next steps if there is a risk.
But rabies isn't the only disease that can affect both humans and their animal companions. Diseases that are transferrable from animals to humans are known as "zoonotic," and these types actually account for about 60% of all human diseases and over 70% of all new diseases. The "One Health" initiative's slogan states, "One World, One Medicine, One Health," and the Veterinary Corps is proud to be at the forefront of this groundbreaking program to ensure that there are safeguards in place to protect both humans and animals against new disease threats.
Through their dedicated work on all aspects of animal wellness, the members of the US Army Veterinary Corps are proud to work in such an essential and rewarding field. "The Veterinary Corps is made up of some of the finest, most professional soldiers in the United States Army," said Capt. Chris Magee, a veterinarian at the Fort Leonard Wood clinic. "I've been blessed to be part of the team here at Fort Leonard Wood for the past 2 years, and I am proud to have served with such a dedicated group." These veterinarians truly embrace the motto of the Army Medical Department in their work: "Serving to heal, honored to serve."