By Army Sgt. David Turner
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 30, 2008 - Most people think of veterinarians as animal doctors, and indeed they are. But the work of a deployed Army veterinarian here shows the specialty involves much more than that. "My main job here at division is agriculture subject-matter expert," Army Maj. Freddie Zink explained from his office at Task Force Mountain headquarters here.
Zink works regularly with Iraqi veterinarians and farmers, whether it's helping with vaccinations of farm animals or advising on projects from poultry farms to beehives.
Like many of the other reservists in the 445th Civil Affairs Battalion, Zink brings valuable civilian skills to his job in the Army. He practiced veterinary medicine in Piedmont, S.C., for 20 years before retiring, selling his practice, and accepting a commission in the Army Reserve. After officer training, he volunteered to deploy with the 445th, and is now serving his first tour of duty.
His years of experience help Zink in assessing the needs of Iraq's many practicing veterinarians. Though agriculture here may not be as high-tech as it has come to be in the United States, Zink said, Iraqi veterinarians need more up-to-date training and better access to supplies to keep Iraq's farms healthy and prospering.
"They have not had hardly any continuing training in the past 15 years," he said of the Iraqi veterinarians he has met during his frequent Civil-military engagements, where he teaches and supervises new techniques. "There are 10 veterinary schools in Iraq, and really they need one -- two at the most." Though Iraqi schools train as many as 1,000 new veterinarians a year, unemployment in the field is high, he said.
The other challenge, a recurring theme for Iraq's rural farmers, is access to drugs, vaccines and supplies, Zink said.
But the most vital need in Iraqi agriculture, he noted, is better water management.
"The biggest problem with agriculture right now is getting irrigation canals repaired, getting the pumps fixed and getting the canals lined," he said. With thousands of miles of river-fed canals supporting farms, maintenance and control can be tricky. "There needs to be some strict enforcement on water resources. Getting water to the farms is very important," he said.
Zink said he also would like to see locally produced feed for animals. Without such an operation, he said, farmers rely on expensive imports and feed that varies in quality. "We need a feed mill in south-central Iraq that is modern and can provide economical, quality feed," he said.
Big potential exists in the once-thriving aquaculture industry in southern Iraq, the Army veterinarian said. Fish farming on a large scale relies on not only good water management and inexpensive feed, but also on help from science.
"They have not brought any new genetic [strains] into the aquaculture since 1979, and the fish have poor feed-to-gain ratios," he explained. "Just by bringing new genetics in, within two years, the fish experts say, it will increase fish production by 35 to 40 percent."
Zink said he looks forward to helping to solve some of the challenges while he's in Iraq.
"[The agriculture infrastructure] just needs a lot of work, and I've enjoyed looking at the big picture, trying to see what's broken and how to fix agriculture in general," he said.
Zink's deployment hasn't been all about agriculture. When the U.S. State Department donated a pair of rare Bengal tigers to the Baghdad Zoo in August, their transportation from the United States to Iraq in the belly of a cargo plane required much care.
Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team led the initiative to find the tigers, but when it came to handling the precious cargo, a specialist was needed to look after the animals' health, and Zink got the call to escort the tigers.
(Army Sgt. David Turner serves in the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.)