FORT BELKNAP, Mont. –
Approximately 20 U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers assigned to the 7360th Veterinary Detachment, Montgomery, Alabama, and the 7350th VD, Joint Base San Antonio - Fort Sam Houston, Texas; performed an array of medical operations and procedures for local pets and ranch animals during Innovative Readiness Training - Operation Walking Shield 2023, August 6-19, 2023. OWS 2023 is a joint-component, real-world mission led by the Montana Army National Guard in tandem with Fort Belknap Indian Health Service and augmented by the veterinary detachments from Army Reserve Medical Command, units from the 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support), Montana Air National Guard, New Mexico Air National Guard and Arizona National Guard to provide medical coverage to both human and animal patients at the Fort Belknap Reservation here.
"What we've been doing is public health engagement," said U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Bradley Fields, commander of the 7233rd Medical Support Unit, Montgomery, Alabama, and officer-in-charge of the OWS 2023 veterinarian task force. "There are a lot of issues in this area, such as canine brucellosis and reproductive diseases in dogs that are transmissible to humans and endemic in this area and a big challenge. Obviously, they've had an issue with rabies and parasite control."
Both veterinarian detachments have worked an estimated 12-16 hours per day to efficiently mitigate the prominent disease and health issues with both domesticated and ranch animals in the local community.
"We're running a wellness clinic, as well as a surgical clinic," Fields said. "In the wellness clinic, we're giving rabies vaccines, distemper parvo, deworming, getting good physicals, trimming nails, cleaning ears, and anything that the pets need that they do not have access to on a routine basis."
To ensure the utmost performance of services and surgeries within their limited duration, the veterinarian task force synchronized their efforts with a local rescue group named RezQ Dogs in Havre, Montana.
"(RezQ Dogs) were able to provide all of the vaccinations, dewormer, surgical equipment, and all of the supplies and the materials for this event," said Fields. "So we're grateful for that. On (April 9 and April 10), we were at the Fort Belknap where we set up at a bingo hall and ran wellness and surgical procedures. On the first day, we did about 32 spays and neuters. We did 47 surgeries scheduled yesterday, and then we had 22 surgeries left by 1800. The final number (on April 11) was about 58 spays and neuters, and close to 100 wellness procedures."
Anita Wilkes, the director of RezQ Dogs, said that the presence of the veterinarian detachments injected an enormous boost in their wellness and surgical output due to the scarcity of veterinarian clinics in and around the local community here.
"Having the Army here and not only for spay and neuter services, but also the wellness and the vaccinations, just truly means the world to the folks in the reservation," Wilkes said. "Without the Army Reserve Soldiers, we would've not been able to organize spays and neuters of this magnitude. We don't have enough staff, and we don't have access to veterinarians due to a nationwide shortage. And most of the local veterinarians are concentrated on large animals, simply because that is simply what the economy requires and ranchers require. To even get appointments for small animals is really hard in the reservation. So having Fields come with the other veterinarians means everything."
Although their services and support were limited in duration, the Army Reserve Soldiers have nevertheless made a tremendous impact on the Fort Belknap Reservation, Fort Belknap IHS and RezQ Dogs.
"We're just beyond excited to work with Army Reserve Medical Command and happy to provide the support that we are providing, and I hope that we can do this again in the future," said Wilkes.