Serving his country one animal at a time
By Hannah Brescher
Capt. Justin DeVanna starts his week inspecting food for hundreds of soldiers and ends it closing the doors to his veterinary clinic after the last dog has been treated.
Photo provided by Justin DeVanna
Justin DeVanna (right), a veterinarian for the U.S. Army and a 2007 Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine graduate, examines a cat with help from Lizeth Ybarra-Rojas, an Army animal care specialist.
DeVanna, a 2007 Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine graduate, is a veterinarian for the U.S. Army, based at Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico.
As you might expect, Army veterinarians care for government-owned military police dogs and the pets of working soldiers. But one of their unique roles is ensuring the safety of the military's food supply. "There's no easier way to hurt a group of soldiers than to infect their food," said DeVanna. "They all eat the same thing, so if you give 200 of them something deadly, they are out of the battle."
One way DeVanna and other veterinarians keep soldiers safe is by going to food-receiving facilities, like the local Pepsi-Cola plant, where they inspect the water going into bottles.
German shepherd a top dog in military
By Amber Miller
Here are some interesting facts about military working dogs from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, home of the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Program.
- Detector dogs are trained to detect bombs or drugs.
- Patrol dogs are trained for scouting, searching and attacking.
- The German shepherd and Belgian malinois are the best breeds for military dogs because they have the best combination of important attributes, such as a keen sense of smell, endurance, speed, strength, courage, intelligence and the ability to adapt to almost any climate.
- The Labrador and the golden retriever are also common military working dogs. The Transportation Safety Administration uses them to detect explosives.
Find out more at:
Purdue Veterinary Medicine
U.S. Army Veterinary Service
Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico
Lackland Air Force Base
His role began when the Army gave him a scholarship to study at Purdue, which paid for part of his schooling and launched him into his profession. "The number one reason why I did this is service to my country, there's no doubt about it for me," said DeVanna. "I am also most proud of the fact that I can help the pets of the soldiers here."
The small-animal clinic DeVanna runs at Fort Buchanan is available for soldiers who either live on the base or for soldiers' families who live in nearby towns. An Army base is like a small city and both share similar needs. "If mom's gone or dad's gone and deployed in Afghanistan or another country, I can take just a little bit of stress or a bit of concern off of their children or their family's minds that their pets and food are safe,” DeVanna said. "Those are the things that really make me feel good about what I do."
And, like a lot of hometown vets, saving and improving pets' lives motivates DeVanna every day, he said. "More recently, a pet had a horrible skin condition, and the owners were thinking they were going to have to euthanize her," he said. "We've been working for about two months, and we now have the diagnosis. The great thing is that this pet probably will not have to be euthanized, and I can send that family home with a peace of mind that this pet is going to be OK."
Of course, in combat areas like Iraq or Afghanistan, DeVanna explained that veterinarians perform many similar tasks, but have other responsibilities. "The missions are similar, but obviously a little bit more dangerous and done a little bit differently," said DeVanna.
And in those combat areas there are military working dogs. There are hundreds of dogs in the Middle East, and many more are deployed in other locations, he said. Just as soldiers in combat can be seriously injured, so can the working dogs. A combat zone veterinarian has to be ready to help save those dogs just as a doctor has to be trained to treat people.
Veterinarians in combat zones also help the people in these war-torn communities improve their infrastructure and livestock so that they can keep food on the table. "Because it is so easy for us to go to the grocery store to buy milk or meat, we take the process for acquiring these things for granted," said DeVanna. "One of the biggest goals is to help these communities improve their livestock agriculture or water supply so they are able to support themselves." Army vets do this by teaching the community a variety of things, such as better livestock management.
Although he is not in a combat zone, DeVanna said he would be very willing to serve in these missions one day. For now, as DeVanna makes sure the food supply is safe and a family pet stays healthy, he said he is proud that he is making life a little easier for the soldiers one day at a time.