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Army vets have friends in high places

A group of Reservists spends a week training in the California wilderness

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What did eight veterinarians do on their spring break? They put on Army uniforms, climbed mountains, tended to horses and mules, and learned about disaster relief.

The Army Reservists in early May traveled to the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center near Bridgeport, Calif.—high in the snow-capped Sierra Nevada range—for a weeklong conference. Accompanied by Capt. Sarah Watkins, DVM, an active-duty veterinarian stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C., they worked as a team as part of their service in the Civil Affairs Command.

The exercise was coordinated and planned by Lt. Col. Sylvia Miller, DVM, who in civilian life owns a mixed-animal practice in Clayton, Wash.

“This training was an attempt to organize and cogently set civil affairs veterinary standards among all the 351st [Civil Affairs Command] veterinarians and enable them to perform in an austere environment,” Dr. Miller said. “The survival skills and rock climbing build the confidence of the officers and increased their skill set for future missions in the [U.S. Pacific Command] area of responsibility.”

The week began with mountaineering, equine care and packing classes and concluded with a training event based on lessons learned in Nepal in 2015, said public affairs officer Capt. James Orth. After a deadly earthquake struck the Himalayan nation, the 351st Civil Affairs Command and other U.S. military personnel responded with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Capt. Kavishti Kokaram, DVM, a large animal veterinarian and Reservist from Turlock, Calif., delivered a presentation on what was encountered and accomplished in Nepal.

The culminating training event … injected a veterinarian aspect requiring the veterinarians to assess the economic impact to the rural regions affected by the earthquake and to prepare courses of action for crisis management to include livestock,” the Army reported

Maj. Chase Kohne, DVM, a Reservist and Colorado equine practitioner, said civil affairs veterinarians have multiple responsibilities after a disaster.

“Caring for animals is not the mission,” he said. “Increasing the capacity of the locals to support their own agricultural economies is what we need to do.”

The mountain terrain was a good place to learn, Miller said.

“I want our officers to be exposed to these environments and, in case of exigent circumstances, to rely on their training and figure a way out without panicking,” she said.

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