ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. | Two service members walk through the front doors of the Ellsworth Air Force Base Veterinary Treatment Facility, one on two legs, the other on four. They proceed down a well-lit corridor, boots squeaking and claws clicking on the recently waxed floor to the exam room. The veterinarian walks in with her white coat and clip board to conduct her checkup. After the visit, all is good and the whiskered warrior receives a well-deserved treat.
The Ellsworth VFT’s primary mission is to ensure Military Working Dogs, or any other government owned animals, are ready to deploy around the world; anytime-anywhere. This starts by making sure MWDs are healthy and prepared to fulfill mission essential tasks.
“Our primary responsibility is to ensure the MWDs on base are healthy and fit for service,” said Army Capt. Casey Barwell, the officer in charge of the Ellsworth Veterinary Section. “We have to be certain the dogs are able to carry out commands given by handlers and the only way to do that is to keep our dogs in good shape. Our second responsibility is taking care of privately owned animals living with families in base housing.”
In order to confirm MWDs are ready for deployments they have to be evaluated and cleared. This also means the veterinary clinic team needs to be ready to travel anywhere in the world at any time.
“We most certainly deploy in this career field,” Barwell said. “The Army sets up hospitals in combat areas for the dogs working in deployed locations to have a place to be treated. We also go to places where we want to build relations with communities abroad and make a presence to teach them how to take care of their animals.”
As well as working with animals, members of the veterinary clinic visit to other agencies on base to educate the community on pet care. They talk about food, health, treatment options, and how much fun a pet can really be.
“We try to touch on a lot of things we do for the community and how we contribute to the mission,” Barwell said. “We like to go to the Child Development Center and talk to children about the best practices with pets so they can learn how to care for animals. We also go to other places on base and talk about what we offer as far as surgeries, dental procedures, sick calls and wellness exams.”
The soldiers and civilians working at the VFT also deal with controlling animal food on base to determine it is safe for consumption. They have to certify that it does not contain pathogens or other harmful substances.
“We do audits on food to verify the MWDs can eat it and not get sick,” Barwell said.
Barwell continued saying also travel to Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana to take care of their dogs too.
The VTF personnel ensure service members’ pets are also cleared to go overseas if need be to make certain they are free of rabies and other diseases before they are allowed to go.
“My family and I are going overseas next year so we have to be completely sure our cats are cleared to go to my next assignment,” said Tech. Sgt. Todd Livingston, an electrical power production technician assigned to the 28th Civil Engineering Squadron. “I’m happy the veterinary clinic here on base is able to help us bring our pets with us.”
For Army Sgt. Margot Coakley, an animal care specialist assigned to the Ellsworth Veterinary Clinic, working at the veterinary clinic is fulfilling in multiple ways. The soldiers and civilians at VFT ensure the mission gets accomplished and help pets belonging to base community members
“I love it because I get to help people and play with animals when they come in,” Coakley said. “I enjoy everyone I work with, and this has been a great clinic to work at. The clients we work with are fantastic.”
Veterinarians and veterinary technicians in the Army come from all sorts of backgrounds. They may have gone to college, worked at zoos or some just love animals. They go to dangerous locations to ensure furry defenders are taken care of just as well as their human companions.