Tuesday, March 23, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: A lasting legacy from the Herriot of Helmand

Captain Miles Malone of Royal Army Veterinary Corps is the British Forces’ only vet in Afghanistan. Dubbed “The Herriot of Helmand,” he has become a minor sensation in the province after starting a raft of veterinary clinics for local farmers.

Setting out from the patrol base to talk to local farmers about the veterinary clinic

His principal job is caring for the dogs that sniff for roadside bombs and provide protection to the troops on duty. Keeping them at their peak is important, as the work they do here saves lives.

However, in the seven months that he has been in Helmand, the 28 year old from Mount Bures, near Sudbury, in Suffolk, has begun a series of monthly clinics for the remote farming communities around the main British base, Camp Bastion, and they have proved wildly popular.

Captain Miles Malone talking to a farmer about the clinic

With only a few weeks to go before his tour of duty in Helmand comes to an end he packed his kit and prepared a selection of drugs for another clinic.

In two hardened cool boxes he can carry enough equipment to treat up to two thousand animals. While he has been running regular clinics, this one was different.

The animals out here are a little different than usual

It took an RAF Chinook to fly him out to a small, newly constructed, patrol base established after the largest helicopter assault codenamed Operation Moshtarak pushed the Taliban out of Nad Ali.

After landing at Patrol Base Shaheed which was set up by soldiers of B Company, the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, he was straight out on a patrol to spread the word. Out here the range of animals are a little different but, to the farmers, they are their lifeblood.

Captain Miles Malone on patrol

“These animals are basically their back accounts. Some of these goats are worth $70 each. A lot of people round here are surviving on about a dollar a day so economically they are extremely important,” said Captain Miles Malone.

Royal Engineers building a pen for the vet so he can treat the animals coming to the clinic

Over this tour the clinics have had a noticeable effect, not only on the health of the herds, but in loosening the grip of the Taliban over the people also. Captain Malone has treated over 8,000 animals, and this clinic at Shaheed has added a further 61 farmers to his program.

An Afghan farmer listening to instructions on how to treat his cow with a course of drugs

In contrast to the gentle adventures of James Herriot in North Yorkshire, Captain Malone’s work is at the other end of the spectrum, undertaken with the protection of well-armed Afghan and British soldiers.

Playing up to the camera. Having not see a digital camera before or had their picture taken this boy makes the most of it

“There is very little understanding among the local farmers of veterinary care or basic animal husbandry. So I split my time when I run clinics between treating the flocks and educating the farmers. The Taliban just cannot compete,” said Captain Miles Malone.

Captain Miles Malone working in full kit including helmet and body amour running the clinic is hard work

“The village that we are living in is largely an agricultural community. Having the opportunity for a vet to come down and deliver medication, treatment and also advice to the local farmers has been a real win. In part because it displays our intent to stay here and that our actions are in support of the community. But it also adds back to the economy here because it increases the value of the livestock and educates the farmers, so it is a win on both fronts,” said Major Ed Hill, officer commanding B Company 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh at Patrol Base Shaheed.

Sergeant Major Greg Reeve, from Upavon in Wiltshire helps Captain Miles Malone treat a cow

But what of the future and sustaining this work? Captain Malone’s replacement has just arrived and following on from his success a second military vet has been sent out to concentrate on expanding the clinics.

While the military may have started the ball rolling, they need the Afghans to take over and run it for themselves. This is where non-government organisations like the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad are helping. They are working to train Afghan veterinary technicians who can continue the work long after the British troops have gone home.

More pictures can be found by clicking on the links below:

Capt Miles Malone out on patrol telling farmer about the clinic

A lasting legacy – Capt Miles Malone conducting the clinic

A video of the story can be found here on Youtube:

Pictures and video by Major Paul Smyth


  1. Thank you, Capt. Miles Malone! God bless you and everyone over there, and most especially your families waiting at home.

    A grateful American,
    Maggie Goff
    Bisbee, Arizona, USA

  2. On a side note: those who've read the Herriot books (by Alf Wight) may remember Tristan Farnon (real name: Brian Sinclair). Brian served with the RAVC during the war.