Defense Department News

A Childhood Ambition Come True


Cats and dogs of different breeds and sizes stream into the makeshift veterinary office here, accompanied by owners who may offer a grateful hug for the chance to get their pets the health care that they need.

Army Capt. Janet Johnston, a veterinarian assigned to the Army Reserve's 169th Medical Detachment, is greeted by a dog
Army Capt. Janet Johnston, a veterinarian assigned to the Army Reserve's 169th Medical Detachment, is greeted by Maggie, who was brought in by her owner to be spayed during the Smoky Mountain Innovative Readiness Training mission in Hayesville, N.C., Aug. 3, 2017. The IRT program meets training requirements for active, reserve and National Guard members and units while addressing public needs. North Carolina Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell
Army Capt. Janet Johnston, a veterinarian assigned to the Army Reserve's 169th Medical Detachment, is greeted by a dog
Smoky Mountain Medical
Army Capt. Janet Johnston, a veterinarian assigned to the Army Reserve's 169th Medical Detachment, is greeted by Maggie, who was brought in by her owner to be spayed during the Smoky Mountain Innovative Readiness Training mission in Hayesville, N.C., Aug. 3, 2017. The IRT program meets training requirements for active, reserve and National Guard members and units while addressing public needs. North Carolina Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell
Photo By: Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell
VIRIN: 170803-Z-MC713-1022

Some patients will greet you joyfully, others will cower and try to hide. Scratches and bites that draw blood are an accepted hazard. You do your best to keep them calm, holding them to ease their fears, and in return you might receive some friendly licks to the face.

For veterinarians such as Army Capt. Janet Johnston, this can be a typical day of work. It is also more than a job, it's a way for her to serve her country in a way many do not realize exist, in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps.

“If you don’t know about veterinary medicine or what we are able to do then yes it can be surprising,” Johnston said.

Being an Army veterinarian is more than just providing services to pets during such training events as this Smoky Mountain Innovative Readiness Training exercise. The IRT, which is taking place in Clay and Swain counties in North Carolina, has Johnston working out of an office in a classroom at Hayesville High School.

She and her fellow soldiers from the Army Reserve's 169th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services -- based at Ft. Gordon, Georgia -- will see more than 50 animals over the course of three days.

“A lot of people think veterinarians just do dogs and cats,” she said. “We do food inspection, lab research, aside from treating animals so we have a broad spectrum of what we can do.”

Determination

Johnston said becoming a veterinarian wasn’t a hard choice to make.

“When I was five or six, I wanted a horse,” Johnston said. “My mom said, 'No, they are too expensive and the vet bills are too high.'”

Though young, she remained undeterred.

“I said, ‘Well, mom, if I’m the vet, can I get a horse then?’ And she said ‘Yeah OK, three of them.’ Of course moms are going to tell you whatever you want to hear, so that's where I developed that drive,” Johnston said.

Nothing else seemed interesting enough to distract her from reaching her goal of becoming a vet, despite the fact that some of the prerequisites could have led her in other directions.

Veterinary technician vaccinating dog
Army Capt. Janet Johnston, a veterinarian assigned to the Army Reserve's 169th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services, vaccinates Ella during the Smoky Mountain Innovative Readiness Training mission in Hayesville, N.C., Aug. 2, 2017. North Carolina Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell
Veterinary technician vaccinating dog
Joint Service Mission Begins Providing Health Care to Communities
Army Capt. Janet Johnston, a veterinarian assigned to the Army Reserve's 169th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services, vaccinates Ella during the Smoky Mountain Innovative Readiness Training mission in Hayesville, N.C., Aug. 2, 2017. North Carolina Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell
Photo By: Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell
VIRIN: 170802-Z-MC713-1046A

When applying for a vet program, the standardized tests are the same ones used for medical school, Johnston said. For some, that can be a tempting career path.

“Some people say that if you're going to take the [Medical College Admission Test], you might as well go to medical school,” she said. “It comes down to what your priority is; you [have] to have a passion for veterinary medicine, because you don’t make as much money as people assume.”

Johnston graduated in 2009 from Michigan State University, where she also acquired an interest in the Army.

“We had a recruiter that came in and talked about opportunities, going places, and I love to travel,” she said. A classmate who joined the Army after graduation sent back photos of a mission to Africa, which piqued Johnston's interest even more.

Family life delayed her plans with the Army, she said, but after graduating and starting work, the idea returned and she spoke to an Army Reserve recruiter.

The recruiter explained the benefits of joining the reserves as opposed to active duty, Johnston said. "I was able to get into the Army life and still do missions while maintaining my civilian life, and so I joined in 2011."

Since joining, Johnston has not only helped animals, but the people around her as well. Soldiers new to the veterinary field in the Army have had the chance to learn from her.

Teaching Mission

“She’s awesome, she is very willing to train and show me new stuff,” said Spc. Jessica Hurst, a veterinary assistant assigned to the 169th MDVS. “She was right there beside me when I did my first catheter, so she’s been great.”

For Hurst, joining the Army Veterinary Corps also comes from a passion for animals. After enlisting as a combat camera photographer, she became a veterinary assistant and has spent the past six months with her new unit.

Veterinarian and technician examine a kitten
Army Spc. Jessica Hurst, a veterinary assistant, and Maj. Ryan Reid, a veterinarian, examine Precious during the Smoky Mountain Innovative Readiness Training mission in Hayesville, N.C., Aug. 3, 2017. The soldiers are assigned to the Army Reserve's 169th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services. North Carolina Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell
Veterinarian and technician examine a kitten
169th MDVS Vets Care for Local Pets
Army Spc. Jessica Hurst, a veterinary assistant, and Maj. Ryan Reid, a veterinarian, examine Precious during the Smoky Mountain Innovative Readiness Training mission in Hayesville, N.C., Aug. 3, 2017. The soldiers are assigned to the Army Reserve's 169th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services. North Carolina Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell
Photo By: Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell
VIRIN: 170803-Z-MC713-1173B

“As much as I love photography, I like animals more,” Hurst said. “It’s what I want to do in my civilian career, whereas photography is more of a hobby and I can always keep it as a hobby.”

As a brand new member to the 169th MDVS, the 14-day IRT is Hurst’s first mission with a veterinary unit. Rather than be overwhelming, it can be just the opposite.

“It’s hectic but fun,” Hurst said. “They have been pulling me from surgery prep to vaccines while asking what happened to a different pet, which is hard, but it’s been great.”

Invaluable Care

“I assumed the military had vets, though I didn’t know they would offer services to the public,” said Ansley Walker-Pina, owner of a deer head Chihuahua named Tinkerbell who came in for vaccinations.

The IRT brings these medical services to under-served communities across the country, several times a year. The missions support community health by reducing the spread of disease in the animal population. The services are offered at no cost through the IRT, but for pet owners, these missions are invaluable.

“I didn’t know how I was going to afford services for either of my pets,” Walker-Pina said. “They’re family. It means the world for me to see them happy.”

Johnston said getting out into communities is a highlight of her service. Missions such as this have taken her from Wisconsin to Puerto Rico, to her home state of North Carolina.

“Where we can help the community and make a difference while doing my passion are my favorite memories of serving,” she said.

Johnston said she would recommend the Veterinary Corps to anyone with a passion for animals, though she stresses that it is challenging, but will also bring rewards.

“You have [to] be a leader. You have to have drive,” Johnston said. “It’s for people who want to get out and experience life.”