Yokota's Vet taking care of family
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Since the American War of Independence, the United States military has needed veterinary specialists. While the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps was not formally established until 3 June 1916, Gen. George Washington recognized their utility and directed that a cavalry regiment with a farrier (specialists in equine hoof-care) be raised in 1776. As of 31 March 1980, the Army was made the Executive Agent for all Department of Defense veterinary services.
At Yokota Air Base, the veterinary clinic supports the 374th Airlift Wing’s mission in four ways; medical care for military work dogs and horses, food inspections, veterinary services for privately owned animals and the rabies quarantine program. Their primary mission is to ensure the health and readiness of the 374th Security Forces Squadron MWDs. The clinic provides preventative medical care, such as vaccinations and check-ups, pharmaceutical prescriptions and even minor surgeries.
“Security Forces rely on me to make sure that their Airmen, because the dogs are Airmen too, are ready to work and are deployable.” Said U.S. Army Capt. Amanda Hauck, Public Health Command District Japan veterinarian. “I will drop everything if a working dog’s sick, I can be a little more flexible with my food audits because the MWDs are my top priority.”
By the 1890's veterinarians were being sought after to inspect meat, poultry and dairy products for the frontier posts. With a strong academic background in microbiology, epidemiology, pathology and public health it was determined that veterinarians were ideally suited for ensuring wholesomeness of food. Food audits for Yokota’s on-base facilities are conducted by members of the 374th Aerospace Medicine Squadron public health flight, reducing but not eliminating the number of inspections the veterinary clinic administers. According to Hauck, serving overseas requires her to inspect local companies that provide produce for U.S. military installations, such as lettuce for Sasebo Naval Base’s McDonald’s.
“If I were stationed at an Army Post instead of an Air Force Base I would have a larger number of soldiers under me,” Hauck said. “In addition to the technicians that I have here, trained to deal with MWDs and animal care, I would have soldiers specialized in food inspection too.”
Having practiced veterinary care for 13 years as a civilian before commissioning into the Army, Hauck was prepared for a reduced patient workload caused by additional duties and mission priority.
“I love helping people and unfortunately I’m not in the clinic seeing pets as often as I would like and I miss that aspect, but when I get the chance I love being able to help the animals,” said Hauck.
In spite of this Hauck and her small team of veterinary technicians still provide a wide variety of services for privately owned animals on base. Services include preventative medical care, referrals to local vet clinics for emergency care, health certificates for families PCSing with pets and even prescription diets.
“Privately owned animals are my third mission and so long as I’m maintaining my working dogs, we can work with pets to keep our experience levels up and prevent our skills from stagnating,” Hauck said. “It makes us better clinicians, veterinarians and technicians in the case of our enlisted staff.”
The final role, unique to Japan, is the running of the rabies quarantine program. Whether prior to entering the country, or immediately upon arrival, privately owned animals are kept in quarantine for 180 days to ensure that they do not carry the disease.
“Right now we have an agreement with the Government of Japan allowing us to do in-home quarantines,” said Hauck. “Make no mistake, this is a privilege not a right so it’s vitally important that we hold up our end of the deal because it can be taken away if people aren’t following quarantine rules.”
Enlisted personnel assigned to the Yokota branch vet clinic serve a role similar to nurses and medical technicians at hospitals, being an initial point of contact between patients and doctors. According to Army Specialist Raijuenea Baron, PHCDJ veterinary technician, vet techs not only assist the veterinarian in providing medical care, but also serve a protective role in restraining the animals ensuring the vets safety.
While their jobs are slightly different both Hauck and Baron agreed that their motivations were the same. Both soldiers expressed their love for animals and a desire to help them in whatever way they can.
“It’s a good feeling when it actually works, when the medicine and all of the hard work you’ve put in pays off,” said Baron. “Sometimes there’s nothing we can do but when we can, it’s the greatest feeling to know that you’ve helped an animal survive another day.”