Troops Give Work Animals Free Medical Care in Yemen
By Sgt. Brian E. McElaney, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service
AMRAN, Yemen, Jan. 13, 2006 More than 780 animals received free medical care recently during a veterinary civil action plan event here.
Army Maj. Jim Riche, veterinarian and team leader, Civic Action Team, 404th Civil Affairs Battalion, searches a hoof for an abscess during a Veterinary Civil Action Plan event in the village of Bani Mamoon, Yemen. Abscesses are an infection which cause pain, often forcing a work animal to limp under its load. Photo by Sgt. Brian E. McElaney, USMC
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Local veterinarians teamed up with civil affairs team members from Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa to treat herds in the villages of Bani Mamoon, Thula and Hababa. Animals were given vitamins and anti-parasitic medication and were checked for any other problems.
While the number of animals treated was lower than in past VetCAPs held by the task force, team members said they felt the mission to assist local villagers was a definite success.
"The neat thing about this is that we made a big difference for probably 700-plus families, each with their own work animal," said Army Maj. Jim Riche, veterinarian and civic action team leader, 404th Civil Affairs Battalion. "Each animal was extremely valuable to the owner, so we had a larger effect on the human population owning these animals than we originally expected."
In addition to having the opportunity to assist the Yemeni villagers, team members had the chance to share and learn new techniques with local veterinarians who worked alongside them.
"They were a lot of fun, even if communication was a little difficult at times," said Riche. "There were a lot of tools we use that they weren't familiar with, and techniques they use we've never seen before, so the experience improved the profession on both sides."
This was the second VetCAP conducted in Yemen, and it is part of a larger humanitarian aid effort being conducted by CJTF-HOA at the request of the Yemeni government. Local and national government leaders invite civil affairs teams into various areas to nominate projects that range from medical civil action plans and VetCAPs to school and hospital renovations, said Billy Wilkins, team leader, Civil Affairs Team A 611.
"These are exactly the kinds of projects we're most capable of doing," Wilkins said. "As a civil affairs organization, it's what we're designed to do -- to help better our relations with the Yemeni people."
Relationships formed among the owners, the civil affairs teams and local vets are the most important result of the project for the health of the animals involved, said team members. More than that, they said they appreciated the chance to learn about Yemen and to share a little about America at the same time.
"I was honored to be one of the few Western faces they will ever see," said Army Capt. Anthony Evanego, civil affairs officer, Civic Action Team, 404th Civil Affairs Battalion. "It's an honor knowing that their perception of you will be the perception of the entire United States. It's an opportunity not many people ever get."
Relationships formed were also important because the effects of the project will be temporary, said Riche. Medicines given during the event will improve the animals seen for about six months. But without further treatment, parasites and dietary problems will eventually cause health problems to return.
"We boosted their general health, but the project needs to be repeated for a long-term impact on health and the economy," said Riche. "The real importance is more than what we did for any individual animal, ... it's that we helped gain trust and friendship and proved our intent to good for the people of Yemen. We've broken the ice for future projects to go to the region.
"Hopefully, the word will spread about what we did," he continued, "and someone like (the U.S. Agency for International Development) can make it back and continue these kinds of programs."
(Marine Corps Sgt. Brian E. McElaney is assigned to Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa public affairs.)