COPPERAS COVE — Spc. Betley Martin, 25, slowly and gently petted the Irish Setter mixed-breed dog who laid at his feet. The canine slowly fell asleep as the medication for her surgery began to take effect.
Martin, a veterinary food inspection specialist, is one of a handful of soldiers of the 43rd Medical Detachment, 1st Medical Brigade, who got some hands-on training Dec. 18 while helping the City of Copperas Cove Animal Control Shelter.
“It’s great that we get to do cross-training and can learn both jobs,” Martin said. “It’s a little more interesting than what I usually get to do. When I was helping with my first surgeries, I thought ‘My recruiter never told me about this. I am a food inspector.’”
The detachment is a deployable veterinary unit that functions as a stand-alone clinic. Each seven-person team includes a veterinarian, technician and five food inspectors.
“Each team provides veterinary support to 50 working dogs on Fort Hood and inspects food for 20,000 soldiers,” said Capt. Craig Calkins, one of the team veterinarians. “It’s important for us to come out into the field and practice in an environment like we would actually be in.”
At the Copperas Cove Animal Control facility, the team spayed and neutered 11 dogs Dec. 18. There was no charge to the city, and it was an opportunity for the soldiers to gain job experience. Since March, the detachment has spayed and neutered 112 dogs and saved Copperas Cove an estimated $12,000.
The team runs its operation out of a tent set up on the grounds of the animal shelter and is fully functional within two hours of arrival on site. A two-layer tent is used with liners under the hard plastic flooring to keep the mobile facility as sterile as possible.
“Our whole hospital comes in these green boxes so everything is deployable in a moment’s notice,” Calkins said. “We use a generator for power and all of our instruments have battery backups if the power goes down.”
Capt. Kimberly Fox, one of the team veterinarians, said the opportunity to work on the animals helps Copperas Cove but is also a way for the soldiers to be able to perform surgeries.
“It’s good to get (the soldiers’) hands on patients. Besides being veterinarians, it’s good to get out into the field and function like we would downrange where it is no longer training and they have to know how to place a catheter and be comfortable,” Fox said. “You also develop trust with your technician and cross-training with your food inspectors.”
David Wellington, animal control facility supervisor, said the partnership is great because the soldiers get few opportunities to work on animals in a clinical setting.
“Their service helps us get the animals adopted. People are more excited to get animals when they are fixed already,” Wellington said.
“That means more homes for these dogs.”