LANDSTUHL, Germany – Master Sgt. Tonya Mullin, an animal care specialist currently serving as an operations noncommissioned officer at Public Health Command Europe had the unique opportunity to support a 10-week long equine task force that visited military installations across the United States this summer.
Mullin was hand-picked for this mission due to her extensive knowledge and vast experience with horses and as an animal care specialist. The task force team consisted of Army Veterinary Corps Chief Col. Deborah Whitmer, Mullin and an Army veterinarian at each of the locations.
According to Mullin, the team shared more than 80 combined years of service in the Army and over 100 years of equine experience.
“The goal of the task force was to ensure better health, safety and welfare of the horses and provide a training opportunity for Army veterinarians and veterinary technicians to increase their knowledge about horses.” said Mullin.
Historically speaking, horses have played a critical role in the U.S. Army mission. Today, horses are used for military missions including; official funerals, parades and cavalry reenactments and other public events. Additionally, some Army installations have horses that are used in outdoor recreation by local Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) for service members and their families.
“During our site visits to more than ten different locations, we looked at everything to include, nutrition, communication, pastures, facilities, heard management and veterinary support,” added Mullin. “Our mission was to assess the overall welfare of the horses and to share best practices and expertise with the soldiers who take care of the horses.”
Mullin initially enlisted in the U.S. Army as a combat medic specialist, but retrained and reenlisted as an animal care technician when she had the opportunity in 2007.
“I always dreamt of working with animals,” said Mullin. “I grew up with horses and worked at a rehabilitation facility for abused horses prior to joining the military.”
When visiting the stables of the Old Guard it was “a walk down memory lane” for Mullin.
“Every day, the soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment carry out the sacred duties of the U.S. Army Caisson Platoon,” said Mullin. “The platoon conducts 8 full honors funerals a day, carrying fallen servicemen and women to their final resting places at Arlington National Cemetery. During my time there I took care of more than 55 horses. It was a tough, but rewarding job.”
Horses have always had a special place in Mullin’s heart.
“I truly believe that horses can heal someone’s soul,” added Mullin. “I’ve done therapeutic riding with wounded warriors, double and triple amputees who didn’t think they could go on with their life. But when they sit on a horse, they regain confidence and hope. And for me, that makes my job worthwhile.”