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Hospital Happenings

News | June 2, 2023

Veterinary Corps vital to Army for 107 years

By Jean Graves, Medical Readiness Command, West

Veterinary services at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk provide more than routine healthcare for family pets. Established in 1916, the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps celebrates 107 years of service to the nation June 2.

U.S. Army Medical Department history reveals veterinarian expertise in the armed forces has evolved since 1776 when Gen. George Washington directed that a regiment of horses with a farrier be raised.

According to, Army veterinary officers specialize in animal medicine, public health and research and development. Veterinarians treat animals including K-9 units, ceremonial horses, and serve an important role in food safety and humanitarian missions around the globe.

Col. Alisa Wilma, U.S. Army Veterinary Corps officer and former director of the Defense Centers for Public Health-Aberdeen, said the Army is the only branch to have a veterinary corps and veterinarians are like a Swiss Army knife to the Department of Defense.

“We might not be that specialty tool but having us around ensures the job will get done,” she said.

Wilma said all veterinarians begin their military journey as 64A, a general veterinarian. As they advance in their careers, they take additional training or pursue higher levels of education.

“This additional training will prepare us for one of five subspecialties,” she said. “I am a 64B, public health veterinarian. Other specialties include lab animal veterinarians, veterinary pathologists, clinical specialists, and 64E, comparative medicine veterinarians, who participate in various research, development, and acquisition programs.”

According to the DCPH-A, animal health topics are an integral part of the public health mission and affect the daily lives of Department of Defense personnel. Veterinarians protect military working dogs during deployment, combat zoonotic diseases such as rabies, and research animal diseases of military interest or significance such as foot and mouth disease. Animal Medicine also impacts the daily lives of military Families, including privately owned animals.

At the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, veterinarians not only treat the military working dogs and family-owned pets; they also care for other government-owned animals.

At Fort Polk the Army owns goats, donkeys, and chickens to enhance the realism for rotational units at the combat training center. Army veterinarians ensure the animals are vaccinated, treated for a variety of medical conditions, and are housed in a suitable manner.

Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Neumann is an infantryman assigned to the 509th Infantry Regiment and serves as the farm manager for JRTC and Fort Polk.

“We have more than 30 goats, eight donkeys, geese, and a flock of chickens. These animals provide an additional layer of authenticity to the training scenarios,” he said. “They provide ambience to rotational unit Soldiers or can be used as obstacles blocking roadways.”

Neumann said the farm animals stay in the training area for the full two-week rotation.

“The veterinarians visit the farm monthly to treat the animals, inspect their food, the facilities, and our pastures,” he said. “They are always on call in the event of an emergency.”

Spc. Aliyah Rattigan, animal care specialist with the Louisiana Branch Veterinary Services, said she learned about animal husbandry and livestock while in advanced individual training, but never worked with goats before arriving at Fort Polk.

“Interacting with different types of animals has been very rewarding,” she said. “You never really know what you will come in contact with when you deploy to foreign countries; these animals enhance the experience of all who train here.”

Editor’s note: Col. Alisa Wilma, will assume command of Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital during a change of command ceremony on Warrior Field at 10 a.m., June 5 at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk. Wilma will be the first veterinarian to command a military treatment facility in U.S. Army history.
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