SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --
The Shaw Veterinary Treatment Facility staff hosted Soldiers from Fort Jackson and Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, June 1, to help their deployed capabilities as part of “Operation Repair the Bear.”
During the operation, U.S. Army Capt. Katherine Weber, Shaw VTF officer in charge, and U.S. Army Spc. Brigette Duncan, Shaw VTF animal care specialist, taught veterinary food inspection specialists suture skills using teddy bears, as well as scrubbing skills and how to don gloves and surgical gowns while maintaining a sterile environment.
“[The bears are] actually a great, tangible thing,” Weber said. “Stuffed animals move, they’re not hard and rigid. The same is true when you’re working on an animal -- skin moves when you’re manipulating it.”
The Soldiers practiced their new skills on the stuffed “patients” dropped off by Shaw families and the Fort Jackson VTF. The bears were later picked up by their families fixed of any tears.
While deployed and at home, VTF staff are primarily responsible for the health of military working dogs, supporting all military branches; however, not all enlisted Soldiers assigned to a deployed VTF are animal care specialists at home -- a gap the staff aimed to bridge through “Operation Repair the Bear.”
“Both our 68 Tangos, who are [animal care] technicians, and 68 Romeos, who are food inspectors, go with veterinary teams when deployed,” Weber said. “In case of an emergency, you have to use whoever’s available, so we try and get them cross-trained on the skills they would need in a veterinary clinic.”
Food inspectors may have to use those skills to assist veterinarians in taking care of military working dogs, who sometimes face hazardous conditions while providing explosives and narcotics detection as well as patrol duty.
“The noses of these dogs are more powerful than any equipment the military can come up with and save many, many lives -- especially when deployed,” said Weber. “They have to remain happy and healthy to guarantee the safety of the service members they are protecting.”
Because the bears have minor similarities to real animals, the training offered Soldiers a less-stressful learning environment to practice techniques. Weber said performing veterinary operations while deployed can be much more intense than what the Soldiers experienced during training.
“Often times when we’re in a downrange situation and an emergency comes in, it’s not only the animal who’s injured,” said Weber. “Usually [there are people] who are injured as well. It’s a high-stress environment; things happen rapidly; and you’re focusing on multiple factors. This training is a lot more focused on those individual skills, and it is obviously less stressful in that regard. I think it’s important to learn the skills, have a good basis and feel comfortable with the tools.”
By providing a baseline for necessary deployed skills, the training experience may allow the veterinary food inspectors to better assist veterinarians in the future.
“I thought it was a great training, and I feel like it’s something I personally want to continue to learn,” said U.S. Army Spc. Faegist Adlam, Public Health Activity veterinary food inspector assigned to the Fort Jackson VTF. “I think it’s important for me, because if I were to go downrange I can say this is something I’ve learned that maybe I just need to brush up on, rather than it being something I’m just now seeing and learning.”