Training will help service members care for battlefield animals
Sept. 2, 2012
By Sandi Van Orden
| The Tennessean
For nine days this past month, two Fort Campbell soldiers trained at a Brentwood veterinary office to learn how to handle emergency cases.
They weren’t being prepared to work on fellow soldiers, but on service dogs and pack animals, as well as military family pets.
Capt. Jill Reidelberger, rear detachment commander of the 72nd Medical Detachment Veterinary Service, said an impending deployment sparked the idea for the training, in part aimed at caring for dogs trained to serve as extra ears, eyes and noses on the battlefield.
“These dogs can be worth in excess of $30,000,” Reidelberger said. “These dogs save lives on the battlefield, it is extremely important we have competent trained professionals taking care of them.”
BluePearl, the site of the training, is an emergency and specialty clinic in Brentwood where pets are taken in emergency situations or referred when they need the care of a specialist.
Clinical supervisor John Reale said that since the program began last year, he has worked with six to eight soldiers.
Reale said the goal is to provide experience with critical patients compared to the typically healthy animals the soldiers would see on post.
Soldier gains confidence
Pvt. First Class Russell Moses said he first became interested in veterinary science when he was in high school, but it wasn’t until after he joined the Army that he learned he could work in a veterinary technician situation while serving.
Moses said the training has been valuable because it gives more hands-on experience working with technicians who have studied more in depth, and it has improved his confidence in his own skills.
He said he has worked with “problems that we don’t deal with on a normal basis.”
For example, while examining results from a blood test, he saw data he had never seen in the veterinary office on the post. It turned out the patient was anemic. In another case, a patient came in with a tumor the size of a softball. He had seen only small tumors.
Moses said the most valuable lesson of the training is to be able to react on the spot even if there has been hours of down time or it is close to the end of a shift.
“BluePearl was the nearest fully equipped emergency clinic that offered such a wide range of services,” Reidelberger said. “The fact that it was open 24 hours a day, that it had several board-certified veterinarians and that it had qualified professional technicians to work with the soldiers set it apart from any other clinics in the area.”
Keeping a cool head
Reidelberger said the program was initiated by Maj. Christopher Corrie, who was the deputy commanding officer of the Medical Detachment Veterinary Service.
“Maj. Corrie initiated the program after finding out we were deploying in 2012 in an effort to give soldiers more hands-on experience with emergency procedures,” Reidelberger said. “I also was convinced this was an invaluable training opportunity for soldiers to become exposed to emergency situations.”
Pvt. First Class Derek Lehane said the most valuable lesson he has learned at BluePearl is to remain calm in emergencies.
Lehane said he was surprised and pleased when he found out there are veterinary offices in the Army.
“I wanted to work around the dogs that help and protect our soldiers’ lives,” Lehane said. “It is unique to the Army.”
Reidelberger said that when working at home the soldiers work in veterinary offices that see family pets of soldiers along with government-owned animals, primarily dogs and horses. While overseas the veterinary staff would work with the service dogs and pack animals that could be used for various missions.
Reale said what he hopes the soldiers take from the experience is a greater level of comfort in emergencies.
“When an animal needs you to help, you need to remain calm and confident,” Reale said. He said the way to learn to be calm is to repeat working in emergency situations. “It’s all about patient care.”