By Crystal Marshall, Office of the Chief of Public AffairsJanuary 25, 2018
AFGHANISTAN -- Even with all of the advanced technology in the world, nothing still protects a Soldier like man's best friend.
For the Military Working Dogs currently deployed in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division, the years of specialized training they have undergone have a tangible impact in keeping U.S. Soldiers alive as they fight terrorism.
"It's amazing, prior to reintroducing dogs to the Department of Defense, there were considerable IED deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq," recalled Capt. Michael White, of the 438th Medical Detachment (Veterinary Service Support) under the 627th Hospital Center from Fort Carson, Colorado. "The minute explosive detection dogs were brought back, the number dropped."
"The service they provide is unique, and I'm not sure we've ever been able to replicate their success in the Army with any other type of protection," Dr. White said.
As a veterinarian deployed in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel and assisting Task Force Marauder, which provides critical medical and aviation support to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, White is responsible for caring for the dogs just as U.S. Army medics and surgeons care for human Soldiers -- a responsibility he holds in the highest regard.
"The dog has performed these services to keep so many service members safe," White said, "so we demonstrate our appreciation by taking as good care of them as we possibly can."
'A COLLABORATIVE EFFORT'
In addition to his veterinary duties, White said he normally conducts one K-9 Tactical Combat Casualty Care course once a week. "Once everybody finds out that there's a veterinarian on post, everyone is eager to get hands-on training with the dogs," he said.
Since his area of operations includes the entire southern and western regions of Afghanistan, White is all the more appreciative of the enthusiasm that the Soldiers have for learning about MWD medical care, in case an injury happens while a Working Dog is in the field.
"Considering the extent of the area that we cover, caring for our Working Dogs is very much a collaborative effort," he said. "So for me to provide the tools necessary for other providers to handle care is a natural adjunct to everything I do."
A basic K-9 TC3 course provides an overview of point-of-injury care and stabilization methods to keep the dog alive and comfortable until it can be medically evacuated. White provides training to combat medics and infantry troops who will be on the ground with the dogs, but he also provides training to surgeons and other specialists in human care, known as Role 3 medical providers.
In White's view, veterinary training for human-medicine doctors is symbiotic. "The more we can do to get them the skills necessary, and really the comfort level, to provide care, the better off we all are --physician and patient," he says. "We're fortunate [in that] veterinary medicine really does mirror human medicine."
White noted one recent example of cross-training with a U.S. Navy-run NATO facility in Afghanistan. He worked with Role 3 doctors at the station on ultrasound training, showing them how to quickly identify diseased versus normal tissue and other internal issues in MWDs.
In addition to his traveling training sessions, White also provides specialized training for the dogs' handlers, who "arguably know the dogs better than anyone," he noted. Should an injury occur to a MWD in the field, the handler has access to the combat medic's kit as well as additional resources to "bridge the gap" in point-of-injury care. This ability to provide for the dog's health and well-being while in the field only strengthens the handler-MWD relationship, he said.
A CALL TO SERVICE
For White, his journey into the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps is as unique as the training he provides. His grandfather served in the Marines during the Battle of Midway, and both of his parents work in civil service, "so civic responsibility was pretty strong in my family," he noted.
His first career, however, was in investment banking -- and while it provided personal financial stability, it didn't give him the sense of satisfaction and commitment to service that he wanted. "If I was going to work for 120 hours a week, I wanted to do something I loved and was passionate about," he said, explaining his decision to go to veterinary school and join the Army.
It's safe to say that White has found that sense of service working as a veterinarian for the U.S. Army. "I think it's really dignified when you're able to advocate for a patient that can't advocate for themselves," White explained about what drew him to veterinary medicine. "A human comes into the ER department … and they can be very vocal about what they need. To be able to provide that kind of care for an animal that would otherwise not want to bother anyone … that is extremely special."