[Editor’s note: The following is a letter sent to The Herald by Rance P. Erwin, Ottawa, who has been deployed to Kuwait since October 2012, and now is awaiting his return to the United States.]

Hello, my name is Dr. Rance Erwin.

I originally am from Wellington, Kan. My wife, Dr. Laura Erwin, and I moved to Ottawa in the fall of 2005 to join the Cottonwood Animal Hospital team, which includes Laura’s father, Dr. Larry Mages, Dr. Trent Lancaster and the outstanding members of the Cottonwood veterinary staff. I also am an officer in the Army Reserve Veterinary Corps. I currently am deployed to Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

I mainly wanted to submit thanks to my wife, family members and friends in and around Ottawa, Kan., and all other families and spouses of military members stationed both in the United States and who are deployed. I also wanted to discuss the role of veterinarians in the military as people quite frequently ask me what veterinarians do over here.    

Veterinarians have served with the American military since the Revolutionary War. Back in those days, farriers were synonymous with veterinarians, as they typically were the experts on equine (horse) and other livestock matters. The early need for veterinarians in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War were mainly for equine care for cavalry, field artillery and supply wagon purposes.

By the time the Spanish American War broke out, the need for veterinarians in the military expanded to include inspection of meat, poultry and dairy products. By this time, veterinarians had to be graduates from accredited veterinary schools. A strong academic background in microbiology, epidemiology, pathology and public health has always made veterinarians ideally suited for a role in ensuring the wholesomeness of food within the military.

With the prospects of World War I on the horizon, the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps officially was established June 3, 1916, with the National Defense Act. In World War I, the Veterinary Corps’ main mission was the complete medical and surgical care of more than 150,000 horses and mules in Europe.

As time has passed, our mission has moved more toward all aspects of food safety and security and the care of Military Working Dogs (MWDs). MWDs replaced the horse and mule as the main working animal in the military shortly after the onset of World War II. Dogs have been used as weapons of war dating back to the time of the ancient Egyptians.

Veterinary Corps’ participation in all of our nation’s conflicts since World War I has been an essential element in the maintenance of the health and wellbeing of both working animals and soldiers. One such working animal is Glen, with whom I am pictured. It is quite sunny here in Kuwait, so we both enjoy wearing our shades. Glen is a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois MWD. Most MWDs in today’s military are either German shepherds or Belgian Malinois that are patrol-, bomb- and/or drug-detection certified. We also have a small supply of Labrador Retrievers that are mainly bomb- and/or mine-detection certified.  

It seems like the deployed soldier, sailor, Marine and/or airman gets recognized for their service and sacrifices quite regularly in today’s society. Spouses and families of deployed military members who remain at home with the children and who also sometimes work full-time jobs, however, seem to not get recognized nearly enough for the work they do and the sacrifices they make. I want to thank our friends and family members who help Laura out with Cole and Claire duty when things get busy at work or with other various commitments. Laura and I really appreciate you all taking the time out of your own busy lives to give any support in any manner no matter how big or small. I especially want to thank my wife. Thank you, Laura, for everything you are doing in my absence. I love you very much and will see you soon.   

– Maj. Rance P. Erwin, 445th Medical detachment (Veterinary Services) Camp Arifjan, Kuwait