Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Under the watchful eye of Kalashnikov armed Afghan Army guards, perched on top of four-wheel drive Ranger vehicles as security look outs, a British Army Vetinary Officer and his moustachioed Sergeant Major survey the distant desert horizon for signs of movement. Both carry pistols at their waists. This is Helmand Province and Taliban country: unpredictable and dangerous.
Here come the first customers of the day, announces Captain Miles Malone as a herd of livestock accompanied by human figures appears, still several kilometres away on the bronzed desolate moonscape stretching ahead.
Miles, dubbed the James Herriot (after a vet in a British TV show) of Helmand by fellow soldiers, a cheery 28 year old Captain from Suffolk in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, is a member of 102 Theatre Military Working Dogs Support Unit, normally based in Sennelager, Germany. But he is currently half way through a seven month deployment to Afghanistan based at the British forces main hub of Camp Bastion.
Miles main role in Afghanistan is to provide preventative healthcare and emergency care to the working dogs used to search out IED components and suspicious objects or to guard and provide protection to camps where troops are based. But he has also become the dynamic force behind a new project set up to improve the standard of living for local Afghans and the relationship of British forces with them.
His vetinary clinic, held once a month, invites farmers from the small villages dotted to the northwest of Camp Bastion - away from the Green Zone where the majority of fighting has occurred- to bring their livestock for a free checkup and dose of preventative healthcare.
Animal livestock forms the lifeblood of these local communities. By improving the health of the herd, we can in turn have a positive impact on the health, wealth and general wellbeing of the population.
If we reduce the disease state of the animals, the knock on effect will be improved meat and milk production. This not only increases the value of the animals at market, but it increases the amount of protein in the locals diet. The meat doesnt contain worms or diseases which can be transmitted to humans, so the health of the local population also improves.
During the two day clinic over 600 hundred head of sheep, goats and a couple of donkeys were inspect, wormed and vaccinated. When all is done, Miles stretches his aching back, sips some water and cracks a broad grin. It is the satisfied smile of a job well done, by a man confident in the fact that he is making a difference.