KFOR Veterinary team keeps animals and Soldiers safe

By Staff Sgt. Anna PongoJune 22, 2023

KFOR Veterinary Services and U.S. Army K9 Handlers host the “Ruck with the Pack” 5k
Kosovo Forces Veterinary Services and U.S. Army K9 Handlers hosted the “Ruck with the Pack” 5k foot march with Soldiers from KFOR Regional Command-East and local forces at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, June 3, 2023. The event was held to honor Military Working Dogs and their handlers for their service, and to give service members the opportunity to support the K9 units in the region. (Photo Credit: Cpl. Skyler Schendt) VIEW ORIGINAL

The three Soldiers of the 64th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services Support (MDVSS) serve a dual purpose on Camp Bondsteel and in the surrounding communities. They work hard to keep both the animals and people safe as they continue the Kosovo Force (KFOR) mission together.

The small but mighty veterinary team from Baumholder, Germany has what they call the “animal mission” and the “food mission”.

Capt. Freelie Mitchell and Cpl. Alexus Leyno are in charge of the animal part of the mission. Camp Bondsteel has two U.S. military working dogs whose job it is to check vehicles at the base entry point for explosive devices and keep all the people inside Camp Bondsteel safe. Mitchell and Leyno in turn keep the dogs safe and healthy.

“A lot of times people overlook our military working dogs as service members,” said Mitchell. “They are service members. They are weapons. So if we can keep them up and going, we multiply the force. They defend our gates and so they defend our service members here on base.”

The job of being a veterinarian, like Mitchell, or animal care specialist, like Leyno, is truly a work of passion. Caring about the animals they look after is the highlight of the job for them.

“My favorite thing about my job is the dogs,” said Leyno. “They all have their own personality. Every dog is just different in their own way and some have different qualities than others. So it's nice to just be around all these dogs and get to understand them.”

KFOR Soldier conducts K9 ultrasound
Soldiers of the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, “Task Force Nighthawk”, arrive to begin training during KFOR 31 in Hohenfels Training Area in Germany on Oct. 3, 2022. KFOR 31 is a multinational training event conducted to prepare units for their deployment to the Kosovo Regional Command East. (Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

For the U.S. working dogs, the team conducts a twice-a-year physical to ensure that they are healthy from top to bottom. This includes dental and physical, just like with humans. They are also always on call if there are any accidents.

This part of the service extends to the other K-9s serving the KFOR mission. Mitchell explained that they provide emergency care to the Austrian, Italian and Czech coalition partners.

“It can be very calm here at times, considering that we only take care of two U.S. military dogs on a daily basis,” said Leyno. “But we also do life, limb, or eyesight, emergency care for the other foreign military dogs.”

For the other half of the mission, the focus is on the human Soldiers instead of their four-legged fellow service-members. Sgt. Deonte Collins, the unit’s veterinary food inspection specialist, conducts routine inspections of all of the dining facilities across Kosovo.

“The best way to destroy a military is through their stomachs,” said Mitchell. “So he takes care of the people.”

Collins inspects anywhere there is food that service members might consume. This includes how they store the food, how the food is shipped, and if anything's expired, he'll either make sure it's taken off the shelf or checked for quality and condition, and then extend the food if it is still good.

“Our job is important to the mission out here is to give the Soldiers food,” said Collins. “We ensure that everything is good for them to eat. And we work to make sure they can get their favorite foods like steaks to keep their morale up.”

The job for a food inspector here is a little different than it is back in the U.S..

“It's been a different experience from when I'm back in the states where everything's solidified to have all the regulations,” explained Collins. “But here we have to go off of our knowledge and deep dive in regulations to make sure the soldiers are safe.”

Safety is of utmost importance for both the human and animal sides of the veterinary team. Part of their mission to ensure this, is training the dog handlers, medics and first responders in point of injury care for the K-9s that they come in contact with.

“We often train, because the most important thing is if an injury happens, is that point of injury care,” said Mitchell. “And so we make sure that they can adequately treat any of those injuries, and then we train them on how to get the K-9s to us.”

The veterinarian team’s mission extends beyond the confines of the military bases however. Community outreach is an important part of their mission in Kosovo.

KFOR conducts K9 point of injury care training
Cpl. Alexus Leyno, animal care specialist with the 64th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services Support (MDVSS) from Baumholder, Germany, conducts an ultrasound on a military working dog at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, June 6, 2023. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Anna Pongo) VIEW ORIGINAL

“We try to do as much community outreach as possible,” said Mitchell. “We've gone to local shelters and we've trained with their veterinarians on how to do ultrasounds, different techniques for surgeries, and for spays and neuters to keep the stray population low and healthy. We can learn from each other and trade technical skills.”

In addition to working with local veterinarians, the team has also seized the opportunity to speak to local high schoolers about pet health and food safety.

“We have a continued project with the local high school that has a veterinarian program,” explained Mitchell. “We are going and talking to them; not only about different diagnostic techniques that we use but also about… herd health, because this is a very agricultural type community.”

Through their continued efforts, the veterinary team hopes to further expand their impact in the local community and with their KFOR counterparts.