A kid, his legs clenched firmly in the grip of a teenage rancher’s hands, is unwillingly wrestled over to the opening of a hastily made pen of thickets where the technicians wait. Blood-curdling screams are heard as a large needle punctures his hide, injecting him with a multivitamin solution.
After getting a series of shots and a dose of a pour-on, anti-parasitic liquid, the little one stumbles off to rejoin the other goats that have already been treated.
“I was in Tanga for 2 months at more than 12 different ranches and I still am not used to the sound a goat makes when it gets a shot,” said Scott Regiec, non-commissioned U.S. officer. “Their screams sound just like children.”
Service members assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, in collaboration with a group of local Tanga veterinary para-extensionists from the Tanga Ministry of Livestock Development and Fisheries, treated more than 20,000 animals in a two-month period.
This was the final stage of Operation Honest Talon, a three-phase, 16-month-long veterinary civic action project that ends Oct. 25.
During the VETCAP, members of the team treated herds of cattle for known zoonotic diseases, including lumpy skin disease and trypanosomiasis.
According to Jason Brower, lead veterinary technician for the team, lumpy skin disease is prevalent in parts of Africa and causes decreased milk production, infertility and damaged hides in cattle. Trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness disease, is transmitted by the tsetse fly, and has a high mortality rate. Trypanosomiasis can be spread to humans.
In addition to treating cattle, goats and sheep were treated for pneumonia, given a multivitamin injection and treated for internal and external parasites.
Because Honest Talon had been an ongoing VETCAP, it enabled the team to provide more comprehensive care. Animals were given a series of treatments that can only be administered over a period of months.
“It was determined that a mass vaccination program was needed, so every six to nine months, we came back to the same area,” said Heather Serwon, a U.S. army veterinarian. “These cattle are in much better condition than when this VETCAP started a year ago … just de-worming them in itself does wonders.”
In addition to promoting healthier and more productive livestock, Serwon added, veterinary care can reduce the chance of diseases spreading throughout the region. “We are here to try and prevent any outbreaks.”
With the vaccines and treatments provided for by the VETCAP team comes improved livestock, which is not only a source of food, but a measure of income and wealth for many villagers in the Tanga region.
“Now most of the livestock keepers and owners know that using these vaccinations help control disease. This will limit premature death in these animals,” said Ali Shekuwe, secretary of the Pingone Settlers Development Association. “This is quite an achievement — which has been done by our Tanzanian government with the friendship of the U.S.A. We hope the same will continue in the future so that we can completely eradicate these diseases, and so we can export our livestock to the external market; outside the boundaries of Tanzania.”
Camp Lemonier, Djibouti is more than 1,300 miles from Tanga. The logistics of getting the team and the required medications to the ranches where the VETCAP took place “was not easy,” said Brower. “You can imagine the logistical difficulties. We had to get the meds here; we had to contract drivers who know the area well enough so that we can get on site, and so on. A lot of things had to mesh up just right so we could make this happen.”
In addition to logistical obstacles, many of the roads to the ranches were unpaved, requiring the use of four-wheel drive vehicles.
“Some of the roads we had to travel on were more like hiking trails,” said Regiec. “Our team worked really hard to make sure we would be able to get to some of these ranches. It took a lot of planning and coordination, but the overall result was worth it.”
According Todd Nord, mission commander for Honest Talon, the reason for traveling to such remote locations during the VETCAP was to “get out into the countryside where the assistance is needed the most.”
“This gives us the ability for the team to reach isolated areas in Tanga and give them the opportunity to meet people who otherwise may never have met an American service member,” added Nord.
“The VETCAP was important to this region because we were able to build a relationship with the local community,” said Nord. “The one thing I pull away from these missions is how well the community here interacts with one another and with us. Hopefully with the vaccinations we gave these animals, it will increase their longevity and help out the local economy.”
Brower said the VETCAP was successful and will help promote security and stability in the region.
“At the end of the day we provided a service that’s going to do good things for the people,” said Brower. “The best part of being able to work in civil affairs is coming out and making friends with the people and interacting with them and really experiencing the culture and learning about them.”