Kentucky medic helps with better care for military working dogs

Story by Tech. Sgt. Kelly White, CJTF-HOA Public Affairs

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2nd Lt. Justin Gilliam, 2/138th Field Artillery Regiment medic, takes U.S. Navy Military Working Dog Adela’s pulse May 21, 2013, during a MWD care under fire class taught by U.S. Army Capt. Danielle Diamond (center), while U.S. Navy Master-at-Arms 3rd Class Ryan Ezell, Adelaaâs handler, restrained her during the hands-on class instruction. Ezell and Diamond ensured the medics understood restraining and training a MWD, or its handler, downrange will likely entail considerably more difficulty. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sergeant Kelly White)

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti — Widely known for unfaltering loyalty, mission focus, courage under fire and ability to detect a threat like no human or military apparatus can, military working dogs have earned their status as some of the most trusted and loved comrades amid troops as well as one of the most in-demand weapon systems for downrange military commanders.

What’s not so widely known is how to most effectively administer care under fire when one of these fearless warriors gets wounded in battle.

It’s for this reason medics from the Kentucky Army National Guard 2-138th Field Artillery Regiment assigned to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, in support of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa mission, and CJTF-HOA Surgeon Cell, veterinarian U.S. Army Capt. Danielle Diamond, teamed recently to better tend to the needs of MWD service members putting their lives at risk alongside their human pack mates.

“This training is something we requested through the vet services here on camp, because of the likelihood of encounters with MWDs,” U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenant Justin Gilliam, 2-138th FAR Task Force Longrifles medical services officer, said. “This basic knowledge will help our medics should they ever need to provide care to a MWD.”

During the training, Diamond first explained the importance of muzzling the dog; and, with the help of U.S. Navy Master-at-Arms 3rd Class Ryan Ezell, and his MWD partner, Adela, taught medics how to fit the muzzle before administering medical care.

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U.S. Navy Master-at-Arms 3rd Class Ryan Ezell, a military working dog handler assigned to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, demonstrates with his military working dog partner, Adela, how to muzzle a dog during a MWD care under fire lesson May 21 provided by Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) Surgeon Cell veterinarian, U.S. Army Capt. Danielle Diamond. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sergeant Kelly White)

“With a human being, you can immediately begin to give care once the enemy is suppressed,” Gilliam said. “With a MWD, you must still suppress the enemy, but take into account the temperament of the dog and how to handle the dog without further injuring the dog or being injured yourself.”

After emphasizing the safety afforded by proper muzzling, Diamond, a Fairfax, Va., native, taught the medics some significant differences between how to identify, treat and monitor a human versus a canine patient.

“Something as basic as taking vital signs on a dog differs pretty drastically from taking a person’s vitals,” Diamond, whose regular duty station is Royal Air Force Feltwell, United Kingdom, said.

Ultimately, a dog’s body temperature, heart and respiratory rate are different, said Diamond, as is the position of their bodily organs. This means medics need to know where to go to correctly assess the dog’s condition and medical care needs.

Not only did the medic’s training teach how to properly administer canine care on the battlefield, but the lessons learned during the training will now carry over to their mission preparation as well.

“This training, in addition to allowing us to really focus on something other than human care, has opened our eyes to the importance of proper handling of a MWD and how to treat its injuries,” Gilliam, a Lexington, Ky., native said. “Knowing what we now know, we can better adapt our (standard operating procedures) to better safeguard ourselves when treating a MWD, to protect both the dog and our medics.”

Likewise, their SOP updates will include actions that must take into account the strong bond between dog and handler. Regardless of which one in the human-canine pair is injured, a MWD gets treated in the presence of its handler, Gilliam explained. If it’s the handler who’s injured, he’s treated in the presence of the MWD and a spotter.

Even if one’s injuries require a medical evacuation, they go together, he added. This is a major consideration in a situation when there’s only room for one on the MEDEVAC.

Inasmuch as the medics value the training because it broadened their medical know-how, it has also developed their appreciation for MWD patients.

“Being in a combat arms unit, we interact on all levels with different types of patients,” Gilliam said. “There’s always the chance we could have to perform life saving, medical care to save a MWDs life because they are a fellow service member and deserve the same top-quality medical care as any person in uniform.”

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