By Capt. Daniëlle Hamer, 30th Medical CommandMarch 24, 2013
Lakenheath, England -- Sgt. Jeffrey Souder is outnumbered: a few thousand to one. He lives, breathes, and eats among them, but he is different. He looks different, his words are not what you usually hear, and his patients are certainly of a different breed.
Army Sgt. Souder is one of three Army Medical Soldiers attached to RAF Lakenheath, the largest U.S. Air Force base in England. He is an animal care specialist and is used to being surrounded by Air Force and Navy personnel. For this assignment, however, the nearest Army unit is 500 miles away.
"You have a lot of people come up and ask you, 'where do you work at?'" Souder explains with a chuckle.
His uniform makes him stand out, and often Airmen are not sure whether to salute him since his rank looks different.
In 1980 the Air Force discontinued its veterinary program and since then all Department of Defense veterinary services are provided by Army Medicine. The Veterinary Corps mission includes providing world class service through veterinary support, food safety and defense operations, caring for military working dogs or MWDs, and more.
"When there are MWDs on base, chances are there will be an Army vet there," Souder says.
Souder is clearly passionate about his connection with MWDs: he pushed to be housed on the base where the MWDs are located, RAF Feltwell, despite the minimal resources and luxuries the small base offers. He also adopted a retiring MWD before leaving his last duty station, a German Shepherd trained in narcotics detection.
Souder, a Redding, Pa. native, was stationed at Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa, Japan before coming to the U.K. But there he was surrounded by Army, Navy and Marines as well as Air Force, so he never felt isolated.
Now his parent unit is in Vicenza, Italy, and their command headquarters, Public Health Command, Southern Europe, is in Germany. He and his fellow Soldiers receive support from the Air Force installation, but all training and Army related matters go through Vicenza. They conducts Video Teleconferences with their parent organization to stay up-to-date, and once a year they attend a week-long situational training exercise in Italy to stay current on weapons qualifications and other combat related tasks.
"It's good because everyone gets to meet everybody you see on the VTCs," Souder explains.
Recently the inter-service support agreement changed so that the base on which the vet clinic is located no longer provides the financial support for the unit; it all goes through the Army now.
Being geographically separated is tough, Souder admits, but he is not complaining.
"I love my job; I love being here," he adds.
After two overseas tours in joint environments though, Souder understands he will likely return to the States after this assignment, perhaps in a training capacity.
"I'd like to go to the school house and actually teach for the class, or the MOS," Souder says in a hopeful tone.
In addition to caring for MWDs, the RAF Lakenheath Veterinary Treatment facility offers basic veterinary services including immunizations and sick call.
For more information about the clinic visit http://www.facebook.com/pages/RAF-Feltwell-Veterinary-Clinic/116828798355317.