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Combat Casualties Aren't Always Human: Aeromed Reservists practice caring for Military Working Dogs

People treating a dog

Captian Gabrielle Montone, Ft. Benning, Georgia, Veterinary Clinic intern, instructs 908th Airlift Wing Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron commander Lt. Col. Amy Sanderson in canine CPR techniques at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, March 7, 2021. Montone and her team conducted canine-specific medical training designed to prepare 908 AES members to provide proper care to Military Working Dogs who are injured in the line of duty. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. John T. Stamm)

People treating a dog

Captian Beth Byles, Ft. Benning, Georgia, Veterinary Clinic officer in charge, provides instruction to Capt. Desiree Statler, 908th Airlift Wing Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron flight nurse, on proper canine casualty techniques at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, March 7, 2021. Byles and her team conducted canine-specific medical training designed to prepare 908 AES members to provide proper care to Military Working Dogs who are injured in the line of duty. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. John Stamm)

People treating a dog

Sergeant Kelli Hellfinstine, Maxwell Veterinary Service non-commissioned officer in charge, instruction 908th Airlift Wing Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron medical technicians Senior Airman Daquan Foster (left) and Senior Airman Tyson Eggleson on proper techniques to secure an injured canine for transportation at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, March 7, 2021. Hellfinstine assisted a team from the Ft. Benning, Georgia, Veterinary Clinic conducting canine-specific medical training designed to prepare 908 AES members to provide proper care to Military Working Dogs who are injured in the line of duty. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. John T. Stamm)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

The United States military has employed Military Working Dogs since the Revolutionary War; first as pack animals, advancing to pest control, to today where they see action world-wide helping to safeguard military installations and personnel by detecting explosives and drugs.

MWDs have become an integral part of military operations and security, yet many people don’t realize dogs are vulnerable to the same environmental and occupational hazards as humans. They can suffer heat stroke, post-traumatic stress disorder, combat wounds or any number of the same injuries that can produce a human casualty.

“Military Working Dogs are critical assets for military police, special operations units and others operating in today’s combat environment,” said Capt. Beth Byles, section officer in charge of the Fort Benning Veterinary Center in Georgia. “Many people don’t realize that the (military working) dogs often require medical attention.”

Though dogs are similar to humans biologically, they react differently and therefore specialized techniques are needed to provide proper care to the animal and protect the caregiver. That is why it is highly beneficial for military medical personnel to receive canine-specific medical training, and it’s why Byles, a team of Fort Benning veterinary interns and 42nd Air Base Wing Security Forces personnel provided MWD evacuation familiarization training to 908th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron personnel at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, recently.

“There are a very limited number of veterinarians in the military, so when MWDs get injured, quite often they are treated by medical personal trained to provide care to humans,” Byles said. “Expectations are that injured working dogs will receive the highest level of resuscitative care as far forward as possible, often in the absence of veterinary personnel.”

The team taught 908 AES personnel the basics, such as how to check for vital signs and patient assessment. Other topics included emergency airway management, shock management, heat and cold injuries, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and virtually every other triage technique that medical personnel could employ in a combat environment. Training on artificial canines, personnel also learned how to properly sedate, secure and transport the animals.

Participants learned that it is acceptable and effective to use medications developed for humans on canines. However, transfusing human blood into a canine would prove lethal.

“It would be equivalent to giving ‘A-positive’ blood to an individual with an ‘O-negative’ blood type,” Byles said.

908 AES officer in charge of mission planning, 1st Lt. Kristian M. Taylor, recognized the gap in training and medical knowledge of MWD care within the unit and set up the training with the subject matter experts.

“As flight nurses, we understand that our patients are not limited to being human and take on the responsibility of having to provide care for a MWD, perhaps even in the absence of a handler,” he said. “We aren’t selective in who we treat. Our job is to provide the best care to anyone who needs it, including canines.”

908 AES commander Lt. Col. Amy Sanderson re-emphasized the importance of the training, as flight nurses and medical technicians are often the first medical care the animals receive when injured.

“We transport them aboard our aircraft, and they are considered our patients while they are in our system,” she said. “It is vital we learn proper care.” #ReserveReady

(Stamm is assigned to the 908th Airlift Wing public affairs office.)

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