By Marine Corps Sgt. Scott Whittington
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 14, 2009 - Marines here have brought new meaning to the expression "goat rope" by helping local farmers with free veterinary care for their goats, sheep and cows. Marines from 4th Civil Affairs Group, attached to 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 3, hosted the project for Afghan livestock Oct. 9 in the Garmsir district center.
"It's not just something nice to have," said Marine Corps Capt. Micah P. Caskey IV, civil affairs officer. "This is the people's livelihood."
More than 60 farmers and a local veterinarian brought 717 animals – sheep, goats and cows – to the market to get veterinary care for treatment and prevention of worms and illnesses. Two military animal doctors – one each from the United States and Great Britain -- assisted with the civil action project.
U.S. Army Capt. (Dr.) John M. Winston III, one of the veterinarians, thought the clinic "was fantastic."
"We directly engaged with and helped the Afghan people," said Winston, a Georgia native with the 993rd Medical Detachment Veterinary Services.
This project is another example of cooperation among the Afghan government, Afghan national security forces and NATO's International Security Assistance Force, Caskey said.
Caskey and others began meeting with local elders and other community members in July to ensure their outreach didn't impinge on the local veterinary supply store or veterinarians. "The last thing we want to do is adversely affect the local economy," he explained. "We bought medicine from the store and gave it out."
When the Marines arrived at the front of the market to set up the animal pens, some local residents didn't know what was happening. But as animals began lining up for treatment, the people got the idea and helped to spread the word.
"The people are feeling happy," local fabric dealer Sheer Mohammad said through an interpreter.
Mohammad spread news of the one-day clinic to some friends who, in turn, brought their animals for treatment. "It's a good thing you're doing this," he said, adding that he was surprised to see a foreign military giving free medicine for livestock.
As the farmers arrived, they checked in and took their animals to a waiting area. Once the vets were ready, the interpreter called off names. They then herded their sheep, goats and cows into the treatment area.
Some larger animals took a few Marines to wrangle. Although the project was concluded without major incident -- only a few sore toes from dancing cows -- the day had its share of unexpected challenges.
"The volume of animals in such a short time was a bit of pressure," said British Royal Army Capt. (Dr.) Miles H. Malone, a veterinarian. "Having another vet there was key to its success."
"We saw and treated more animals than expected," added Caskey. "But more importantly, we showed the people their government cares about them."
Plans for another vet clinic are being considered. However, since Regional Command South has only one vet on staff, Caskey said, he will forward the local vet's contact information to incoming units so future coordination can include him on other animal-related projects.
(Marine Corps Sgt. Scott Whittington serves with Regimental Combat Team 3 public affairs.)