JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. –
Soldiers from the 78th Training Division, 424th Multi-functional Medical Battalion and 422nd Medical Detachment Veterinary Services participated in a pre-deployment training scenario at Forgotten Angels Equine Rescue Feb. 27, 2014, in Medford, N.J.
The training scenario, Operation Mr. Ed, was part of the field training portion of the 78th Training Division's Combat Support Training Exercise and involved soldiers, horses, donkeys and mules, and aimed at preparing the soldiers for handling large livestock in a foreign village during stability operations.
Soldiers united with the staff at the sanctuary to offer a helping hand. The Soldiers provided free clinical health assessments for the equines and donated vaccines and de-wormers, making the training mutually beneficial to both the soldiers and the rescue animals.
"The mission of the 422nd MDVS is to go into communities and help with livestock, train the local veterinarians and help them to diagnose illness and treat animals," said Army Capt. John Polk, 422nd MDVS company commander and veterinarian by trade. "We support them and then step back so they can lead."
Stability operations play an integral role in keeping the peace after conflict, as in this year's CSTX scenario. People of war-torn countries struggle to rebuild the pieces of their lives. In most underdeveloped countries, small family agriculture plays a more important role than it does in the United States.
The local horse ranch (simulated by FAER and their team of volunteers) for this particular scenario struggled through conflict from insurgent thefts, starvation of the herd and disease. The Army veterinarian in this situation was able to provide immediate medical support to the herd and stopped the spread of disease.
"The deployed veterinarian has the ability and tools to provide immediate support to sick animals," said Polk, a Henderson, Ky. native. "A healthy herd means either subsistence for the farmer or monetary gain. In turn, individual economic stability leads to locals' stability and the denial of desperation and destitution that terrorism, insurgencies and illegitimate governments rely on."
The animal care specialists and the veterinary food-inspection specialists who were cross training received an added benefit. The cross trainees received hands-on training with large animals, an experience many of them do not receive on their own.
"We got good exposure to large animals," said Spc. Anna Bowie, 422nd MDVS animal care specialist. "A lot of us are not used to being around [them] and we received quality training."
Jennifer Platt, a veterinarian of 24-plus years who also donates her time to the rescue, was already on location. Platt heard about the program through word of mouth.
"It is my pleasure to help animals who are in need of care," said Platt.
The facility is owned by Nate and Darlene Supnick, and Darlene partners with Lisa Drahorad to operate the rescue. The animals they take in are rehabilitated by the staff and a team of volunteers who offer their time and expertise. To date, 80 horses have been rehabilitated at the sanctuary and adopted out into caring homes.
"We rescue horses on their way to be slaughtered or from those who can no longer afford to take care of them," said Darlene. "Children come and get to interact with the equines and they enjoy their time here."
This unique opportunity allowed JB MDL Soldiers to receive necessary pre-deployment training and interact with the community, all while helping out animals that were once neglected. By the end of the day, 12 horses, 2 donkeys and 3 ponies were vaccinated and dewormed.
"We are honored to partner up with our military for this training exercise," said Drahorad. "Knowing our volunteers and animals have assisted the Army in their ongoing effort to make a difference in bettering the lives of people and their animals in other countries is a very emotional and humbling feeling for us."
To the everyday passerby, the facility appears to be an ordinary barn; nothing would suggest that something extraordinary is going on behind the red door; but inside it contains people who are making a difference in the lives of Soldiers and animals.