FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Sept. 8, 2011 -- Army veterinarians and animal care specialists provide veterinary care on Department of Defense installations worldwide and are the only military branch that supports the Veterinary Services mission.
And the only place Soldiers in the 68-Tango military occupation specialty, or MOS, receive their training is at the Department of Veterinary Science, run by the U.S. Army Medical Department Center & School on Fort Sam Houston.
The basic 10-level 68T course is 11 weeks long and is 75 percent hands-on instruction and 25 percent classroom. Course instructors include senior active duty noncommissioned officer and retired 68-Tangos, an Army veterinarian, and a civilian veterinarian.
"We don't know where the students will be assigned until they are about two-thirds through their classes," said Lt. Col. Nicole Chevalier, chief of the Veterinary Specialist Branch, Department of Veterinary Science. "We teach them a core set of skills."
The students learn anatomy and medical terminology, how to calculate medicine doses, blood and urine collection and laboratory analysis, parasite identification, how to administer and monitor anesthesia, and conduct surgery prep, dentistry, radiology, ultrasonography and emergency response.
"We try to keep the student/instructor ratio as low as possible, one-on-one or one-on-two instruction; otherwise things get missed and they don't learn," the Army veterinarian said.
Pvt. Dominic Velez said he wants to be a veterinarian.
"This is the stepping stone. It's a challenging MOS. You learn a lot in a short amount of time, but I like it a lot."
"Every MOS in the Army has a critical task list. The 68-Tango critical task list has 101 skills for the 10-level students." Chevalier said. "That's what I base my curriculum on. They have to demonstrate proficiency in order to graduate."
The facility is accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International and is the home to 20 hound-mix dogs, eight cats, 40 rats and 80 mice.
"One of the things we try to do is create real-life scenarios as much as possible," explained Dr. John Deaton, deputy chief of the Department of Veterinary Science. "[The students] will perform physical exams, take lab specimens, draw blood and work with veterinary instructors on medication doses and anesthetic induction doses.
"We are a teaching facility, not a research facility. All the animals at the facility are purchased from U.S. Department of Agriculture Class-A vendors," Deaton said. "These animals are extremely well cared for."
The students use training models when possible to ensure the humane treatment of the animals at the facility.
The 341st Training Squadron trains all the military working dogs for the DOD and the U.S. Army Public Health Command is responsible for providing veterinary treatment for military working dogs worldwide in hundreds of locations. The premier facility, providing the highest echelon of veterinary care is the Holland Military Working Dog Hospital, located next to the 341st TRS on Lackland Air Force Base.
The 68-Tango students spend week six of the course at the hospital, learning how to anesthetize dogs and clean their teeth. They also get the opportunity to work on sick or injured working dogs in the hospital's medicine department.
"Students in the medicine clinic will draw blood, checking temperatures, pulse, respiration, and learn how to process the dog from the time it comes in to the time it leaves," said Sgt. Michael Goff, noncommissioned officer in charge of the medicine clinic.
Students participating in the dental clinic, "first review the dog's record, and look for anything that may cause problems for the dog when it is under anesthesia," Goff explained.
"They do drug calculations according to the dog's weight, learn how to put in intravenous catheters and intubation tubes, clean the teeth, run anesthesia, monitor the dog while they are under anesthesia and monitor the recovery process.
"The students run every aspect [of the teeth cleaning process], but they are constantly supervised by their NCOs and the veterinarian," Goff said.
"The course is challenging, but it's a lot of fun. The instructors make it interesting," said Pfc. Kaylee Austin. "I love animals and I have always wanted to be a vet."
"There is always additional training at their next duty site. The students may go to a veterinary treatment facility, a research facility or they may be deployed," Chevalier said.
There are currently about 485 Animal Care Specialists throughout the Army.
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U.S. Army Medical Department Center & School