By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - "Overwhelming," is how Pvt. Vanessa Antoine described a mission on which she will soon embark.
She and about 50 others from the 43rd Veterinary Services Detachment will soon deploy to Haiti - her home country - to aid in relief efforts there.
Post officials have not announced whether any other Fort Hood units will go to Haiti.
Antoine arrived at the detachment just days before an earthquake devastated the country. Shock turned to nervousness when she couldn't reach the many aunts, uncles and cousins at home.
She eventually talked to them and felt much better, she said Friday at Fort Hood.
The unit has yet to leave Fort Hood.
Antoine last visited Haiti in the summer and is concerned with what she'll see there.
A noncommissioned officer in the detachment, Staff Sgt. Jason Deguire, said leaders told them to prepare for mass destruction.
"It's not going to war, but you're still seeing mass casualties, unfortunately," he said.
Antoine and Deguire are two soldiers in five veterinary service support teams that will serve in different areas to inspect food and water supplies and care for military working dogs.
The mission is "hugely important," Deguire said, because with everything taking place in Haiti, the last thing the people there need are food-borne illnesses.
Food inspectors will make sure supplies handed out to the people are fit for human consumption, said Chief Warrant Officer-2 Jemme Neal, a food safety officer in the detachment. Rations are flowing into Haiti and soldiers will begin by inspecting food from relief-aid agencies rather that the U.S. government's supplies that came directly from the processing plants, Neal said.
It will take a veterinary service support team one day to inspect 20,000 cases of Meals, Ready-to-Eat, Neal said.
She isn't worried about the mission. "Not at all," she said. "Not at all. I think the Haitian people just need some help.
"We'll take care of business. We'll take care of what we need to do."
The detachment is part of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, High-Yield Explosive Management Response Force, which means soldiers have already trained to provide veterinary support in disaster conditions, said Lt. Col. Cheryl Sofaly, the detachment's commander.
Soldiers who treat the military working dogs expect to see the same issues they would during a deployment to Iraq, Sofaly said. Injures include overheating, exhaustion, lacerations and diarrhea, which come from working in the rubble and high-stress conditions.
The detachment returned a year ago from a 15-month deployment to Iraq, Sofaly said, and it is preparing to return there in September.
This is the first time the detachment has provided humanitarian relief in recent years, Sofaly added, and they will be the only soldiers of their kind in Haiti, barring a few veterinarians attached to civil affairs units.
Living conditions for the 43rd Veterinary Services soldiers will be austere, Sofaly said, but their priorities are providing food and support to the Haitians and not enjoying showers and plush beds.
Morale is high and the soldiers are excited to help, she added.
For Antoine, it's an experience she never could have imagined. The 19-year-old joined the Army to serve the U.S. and create better opportunities for herself, she said, but soon she will go back home to serve where help is needed most.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at email@example.com or (254) 501-7547. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.