Chiantla, Guatemala –
High atop a mountain near the town of Chiantla, Guatemala, a large pig grunted menacingly.
“Hold on to him, please!” U.S. Army Reserve Maj. Pam Johnson, a veterinary officer with the 949th Medical Detachment (Vet Services), said.
A Guatemalan farmer tried his best to keep a grip on the lasso and prevent the 300-pound animal from dragging him away. Meanwhile, Johnson snuck around the pig with a needle. She gave the animal a quick shot, and after patting it on the shoulder, it immediately became calm and trotted away.
Cheers and claps rang out on the mountain top. The praise came from several Guatemalan veterinary students from San Carlos University of Guatemala who were on hand to help provide vaccinations and veterinary services June 21 to the local livestock with their American partners. The veterinary treatments took place in conjunction with the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture during Beyond the Horizon, an annual training exercise conducted by U.S. Army South.
Johnson said the mission in Guatemala is one of the four areas of responsibility for U.S. Army veterinarians.
“One is animal medicine (or taking care of all government and privately-owned animals associated with the military), primarily working dogs,” Johnson said. “Secondly we perform a food-safety service for all Department of Defense entities. We also conduct research and participate in missions like this, which is a public health mission to ensure the health of the local livestock to the population.”
Johnson joined forces with the 109th MD(VS) from Garden Grove, California, for the mission. She said her team consisted of herself – a veterinary officer, two animal care technicians and one food inspector. She explained why it is important to provide livestock training and services with partner countries.
“This is really important and close to my heart, since I have a master’s degree in global public health,” Johnson said. “Animals in very poor communities are their lifeblood. Animal health is very closely tied to human health, so if we can do anything to increase the health and productivity of the livestock, there’s direct benefits to the people.”
The Guatemalan/American veterinary team traveled up the mountain together in a van and bus. At the top, they gave Vitamins A, D and E3 and a de-worming treatment to the animals – primarily sheep.
Johnson said the sheep are vital not only for wool and meat, but for their manure in fertilizing potato crops. Myron Morrena, a third-year veterinary licensing/agriculture student at San Carlos, said he loved the opportunity to work alongside U.S. Army veterinarians.
“In the university we don’t have a lot of opportunities to really go hands-on with the animals in the communities,” Morrena said. “We loved this experience because we got to work with the people in the community, talk with them and help them treat their animals.”
Morrena said he was familiar with many of the procedures the veterinary team performed, but he enjoyed seeing how Americans performed them and interacting with the team.
The exercise contained a real-world application for Morrena because he lives on a ranch outside Chiantla with several horses and other animals.
Galilea Pinto, a first-year veterinary student with San Carlos had not performed the procedures before and got the chance to deliver many vaccinations herself.
Pinto connected with the U.S. Army Reserve all-female veterinary team on a personal level, also. Two members of the four-person team were of Hispanic heritage.
“They were willing to learn about our culture, they took the time to learn about us, to ask us questions, and speak with them and include them as a part of the group,” Pinto said.
The training was also important to Pinto because she studies animal production at San Carlos and aspires to further her studies in the U.S. and bring that knowledge back to Guatemala as a zookeeper.
After working all day and delivering vaccinations to more than 200 sheep and a handful of pigs and other animals, the students, their teacher and the American vets all traveled down the windy mountain road to a restaurant where they enjoyed authentic Guatemalan food.
Johnson’s team left a huge impression on the Guatemalan students.
“I loved working with the Americans because they came here humbly to work with us and it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me,” Morrena said.