United States Army Veterinary Technician 1991-2003
Hometown: East Orange, NJ
Veterinary Technician/91T experience
- Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) Oct-Dec 1992
- 64th Medical Det with duty at Bitburg AB, Germany 1992-1994
- North East District Veterinary Command, Ft Monmouth, NJ with duty at Brunswick Naval Air Station, ME 1994-1998
- 129th Med Det (Vet Svcs), Yongsan Army Post, Korea 1998-1999
- 109th Med Det (Vet Svcs), Stanton CA Jan 2002-Sep 2003
- Ganci Air Base, Kyrgyzstan Aug 2002- Feb 2003
- Various locations in Kuwait & Iraq Mar-May 2003
How/Why did you become a Vet Tech?
I had grown up with dogs & cats in my family since I was a kid. When I couldn’t get my 1st choice of MOS in being a cook (which was a blessing in disguise!), my 2ndchoice was to be a vet tech. Although one of my ASVAB scores was low, they still let me sign up. So, it was some luck & just being at the right place at the right time!
What was the schooling like for you?
Unlike the other medical series who did AIT at Ft Sam Houston, TX, the 91T school was at WRAIR until 1995 (I think). So, we didn’t have drill SGTs, but the cadre sure smoked us & made sure we kept our military bearing as though we were still in Basic! I felt that what we learned a lot & the training was excellent, but I wished there was more time to learn the skills we would take to our duty assignments.
I was told that the 9 week course was what civilian vet techs learned over 2yrs. It was intense, The MOS is pretty small, so class size was usually around 30 soldiers. It was very common to run into people you went to school with at least once or twice during your military career.
We did actually get more hands-on training once we got to our duty assignments & through civilian continuing education when available. It was fun getting to do stuff hands on with dogs, cats, & lab animals, & learning how to perform diagnostic lab tests, draw blood, restraint animals, etc. Classes after ours had (I believe) 2 or 3 more weeks of AIT added on to the course.
Tell us about your experiences treating Military Working Dogs.
All of the dogs were special, & had personalities & characteristics that made them unique & dear to me (even the dogs that were a bit crazy).
By regulation, we were supposed to see the MWDs at least twice a year for check ups, vaccinations, & assess if they needed any other treatments done (dental exams, problems noticed by the handler, x-rays, etc). We also had the Veterinary Officer check the MWD Kennels every quarter, with the Tangos(technicians) coming in monthly to see if there were any problems with the facilities or as follow up to make sure problems noted by the Vet were corrected.
What are some of your most memorable moments treating Military Working Dogs?
There were quite a few cool moments working as a Tango:
- Helping our veterinarian put in titanium implants for all 4 K9 teeth in a young MWD. The MWD freaked out during a thunderstorm & really messed up his teeth, so it was more cost effective to implant new teeth. The handlers had a blast making him smile!
- There was a MWD named Cliff that was at Loring AFB in ME, that would do ANYTHING for his reward, a red ball. Cliff’s handler would have to choke him out until he nearly passed out to get the toy out of his mouth.
- Derek, a dutch Shepard, couldn’t certify for patrol work because he couldn’t be called off when training with the bite suit. In addition, he would go from one spot to another until he actual found a less padded area so he could really get a good bite in.
- Having the handlers tell me about the time Derek & his handler were doing narcotic detection at the main gate of the base, when Derek got loose & got a hold of the tire of a service member’s POV. The person accidentally ran over the dog, & all the dog did was shake it off & tried to chase after the vehicle in the confusion!
- Having the K9 Handlers come pick me up in the baracks in their police car with their lights & horns on for an “emergency” with one of their dogs. There was no emergency-they just wanted to see what I would do in a “gotcha” moment
- Working with handlers from France, Denmark, & the Netherlands watching them train their dogs & their demos for the local kids while in Kyrgyzstan
- The pain on a handler’s face when I had to help the vet euthanize their partner. This was especially hard before DoD had the program where MWDs could be retired & be adopted out by the handler, another K9 handler, military/civilian veterinarian/vet tech, or civilian with K9 experience
What would be the highlight of your Vet Tech career?
Wow-there were so many. All of my times overseas in Germany, Korea, & the Middle East would have to be the best times, because of the veterinary facilities we had available to us & how we had to apply our skills to treat our patients.
What advice would you give to those wanting to become Vet Techs or are new to the field?
Always jump on the opportunity to try something new & be open to learning more. Veterinary medicine, just like human medicine, is expanding and becoming as advanced (if not more so) than human medicine in many aspects. I know that since I got out in 2003, there have been MANY advances in veterinary medicine that weren’t even fathomed when I first started in this MOS in 1991. There is a lot of cross-over in these advances between human medicine & veterinary medicine.
Is there anything you know now you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I think I would have enjoyed being a dog handler just as much as being a Tango, but I didn’t even consider that to be a possibility. I found out later that it is harder to become a handler than it is to become a 91T!!
Is there anything you’d like to add about being a Vet Tech and/or treating MWD’s?
I think the only job that may have been better than being a Tango would have been being a MWD Handler! Overall, I really loved my job, the MWDs (even the crazy ones), & working with members from all branches of the military during my time in. It was truly one of the best jobs I had, & the friends I met while I was in are still friends of mine today.
Has anything changed in the field since you first started and is there anything you would like to see changed?
- When I first came in, the military was only using German Sheperds that they procured from Germany. Now, the military is breeding their own Belgian Malinois down at Lackland AFB, TX for the MWD program
- Once a MWD could no longer do their job, even if they were still otherwise healthy, they were euthanized. Now, MWDs can be retired out & adopted out to military/civilian people with K9 experience or who have veterinary/vet tech experience if they are deemed healthy enough & have the temperament to handle retirement
- As far as veterinary medicine, there have been tremendous changes from 1991 to when I got out in 2003. And I know that there have been many more changes since I have left the Army that I wouldn’t even know where to start to explain. I know there are a lot of things that have been done in military veterinary medicine that is the cutting edge of new technologies & procedures for the rest of the field.
How did you prepare treating Military Working Dog’s in combat?
Personally, all of my Tango experiences helped me prepare for treating our MWDs, especially my time with veterinary units & major veterinary hospitals overseas in Germany & Korea. We trained how to stabilize MWDs, fluid therapy, how to treat hot & cold weather injuries, burns, punctures, splint a broken limb, & other life-saving procedures. This was especially important for me, since
the closest veterinary officer to my location during my 1st 6 months of deployment was an hour away by plane in Afghanistan.
I also kept & brought my notes and veterinary manuals from vets I worked with over the years, & used available technologies to assist me in caring for the MWDs from the US & our coalition partners. Since I was attached to the Air Force Medical Group during my 1st 6 months of deployment, I was able to sit in on their training sessions & use some of the knowledge that was learned in training on my K9 patients if necessary, because animals & people have more things in common medically than differences.
What other roles do you have as a Vet Tech on deployment?
Driver, assisting the food inspectors with checking the rations at the camps, assisting AF Public Health with their mission when I had down time. Basically, if I wasn’t doing Tango duties or something related to my job, I tried to stay busy by helping out with the mission of whatever unit I was attached to.
What are your favorite memories or memorable moments from the deployment(s)?
- I enjoyed setting up basic 1st aid training for the US & Coalition countries’ K9 Handlers while deployed, & setting up a contingency plan/SOPs in case there was an emergency situation with any of the dogs if they needed to be MEDEVAC’ed out. During the 1st 6 months of deployment in Kyrgyzstan, there was no veterinary officer-I was the 1st line of care to stabilize the MWD in case of emergencies. If there was a situation that needed more expertise than I could provide, I had to send the dog to the closest Army veterinarian from my unit in Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
- Actually getting the opportunity to tag along & watch the K9 Teams do their training. I usually only got to see the dogs for check ups, if there were problems, or in emergencies. It was awesome to see the MWDs enjoying their job & working
What were the most common threats/health issues to a military working dog and how did you treat/prepare them?
Heat injuries were a big issue anywhere in the Middle East, so acclimatizing the dogs to their new environment was crucial. Also, knowing how to stabilize heat injuries & have the handlers recognize early signs/symptoms of heat injuries before they progressed was important, too.
Any other remarks… Thanks, Mike, for giving me this opportunity to share my time as a Tango.
-Thank you Tracey for such a great interview and photos. You have given a lot of insight about this important job in the military. Dog handlers appreciate their Vets and Vet techs very much. Tracey Cooper-Harris offcially has K9 Pride!
Tracey is now enjoying life as a civilian and she was featured along with her therapy dog Blaze in this article…With dog at her side, Iraq war vet Tracey L. Cooper-Harris moves forward
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