By Dave Melancon
COTONOU, Benin , Sept. 15, 2006 – Spending 10 days ridding cattle of lice and worms is a job that would make many people squeamish. But for a U.S. Army Europe veterinary team deployed to exercise MEDFLAG '06, it came as a welcome change of pace. "In Germany we care just for dogs and cats," Army Pfc. Amy Brown, of the 30th Medical Brigade, said. "Here I get to work with large animals, and I'm in Africa. It can't get any better than this."
Brown is part of a four-member team treating farm animals as part of Medical Task Force Benin, a group of 50 Army doctors, nurses and medics deployed from Europe and the states for MEDFLAG '06. The two-week-long exercise is supported by medical, dental and veterinary specialists from within active and reserve forces in Europe.
Besides providing much-needed health care, the team also is teaching and training locals in Benin, Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal.
They are learning a lot, as well. "This is my first experience working with large animals," Brown said. "I've never treated cattle before."
Brown said traveling to small isolated farms and working with Beninese colleagues during the exercise has provided a better picture of animal husbandry, the soldier's future career of choice.
"This is what I want to do," Brown said as he was applying an anti-parasitic chemical down the spine of a cow, one of 117 the team treated along with dogs, goats and sheep. "I want to be a large-animal tech, so this is breaking me in."
The medication Brown applied repels insects and other pests and also soaks through the hide to destroy internal parasites.
"You can look at these cattle and see that they have a lot of lice and almost everything else," Brown said. "The number-one thing their owners ask us to do is get rid of bugs."
As unusual as this experience is for Brown, it is just as extraordinary for Beninese army veterinary technician Sgt. Goudjayi Guc.
"This definitely is a very special occasion for us," he said, speaking through a translator. "Normally, because of the law, we remain on our posts to work with dogs and other animals that people bring in."
During MEDFLAG '06 trips to remote sites, Guc is learning about various treatment techniques and livestock medications from his U.S. counterparts. These visits and treatments are helping Beninese farmers raise stronger, healthier animals -- something, Guc pointed out, they cannot afford to do otherwise.
"This is huge for the community," he said. "Normally, if they wanted to do something like this, they would have to spend a lot of money.
However, it's not just the African people who benefit from MEDFLAG '06; their U.S. visitors also gain a lot from the experience.
"Humanitarian efforts are the only time we get to treat 'food animals,'" said Army Spc. Christopher Devriendt. "It is very rare that we get to undertake such actions in our job. It is a refreshing change of pace."
Even with the atypical work, the veterinary team still is practicing many of its normal duties while deployed to western Africa. During two small-animal clinics held in nearby villages, they cared for hundreds of dogs and cats. And throughout the bustling work, the four U.S. soldiers swapped tips and techniques with their Beninese counterparts.
"They have shown us some (animal-medicine procedures) that we did not know about," Devriendt said. "If we ever find ourselves in a situation without standard gear, we now have something to fall back on. This has been a real cultural exchange."
(Dave Melancon is with U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs.)