Some will greet you joyfully, others will cower and try
to hide. Scratches and bites that draw blood are an accepted
You do your best to keep them calm, holding
them to ease their fears. On the other hand, this embrace
might result in some friendly licks to the face.
and dogs of different breeds and sizes stream into the
makeshift veterinary office accompanied by their owners.
Owners who may offer a hug out of gratitude for giving their
pets the health care that they need.
veterinarians such as Army Capt. Janet Johnston, this can be
a typical day of work. It is also more than a job, it's a
way for her to serve her country in a way many do not
realize exist, in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps.
August 3, 2017 - Army Capt. Janet Johnston, a veterinarian assigned to the 169th
Medical Detachment Veterinary Services, Army Reserve Command, Ft.
Gordon, Ga., is greeted by Maggie prior to being prepped to be
spayed as part of the Smoky Mountain Innovative Readiness Training
mission, Hayesville, NC. The IRT program meets
training requirements for active, reserve and National Guard members
and units while addressing public and society needs. (U.S. Air
National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell)
wouldn’t be surprised about it,” said Johnston. “If you
don’t know about veterinary medicine or what we are able to
do then yes it can be surprising.”
Being an Army
veterinarian is more than just providing services to pets
during such training events as the Smoky Mountain Innovative
Readiness Training exercise. The IRT which is taking place
in Clay and Swain counties in North Carolina has Johnston
working out of a makeshift office in a classroom at
Hayesville High School, Hayesville.
“A lot of people
think veterinarians just do dogs and cats,” said Johnston,
taking a break from the more than 50 animals her and others
from the 169th Medical Detachment Veterinary services, Ft.
Gordon, Georgia, have seen over the course of three days.
“We do food inspection, lab research, aside from treating
animals so we have a broad spectrum of what we can do.”
Becoming a veterinarian wasn’t a hard choice for the
captain to make. The decision was made early in her
childhood when she made a request of her parents.
“When I was five or six I wanted a horse,” said Johnston.
“My mom said no, they are too expensive and the vet bills
are too high.”
Still, even at a young age she
remained undeterred. That is when she had her vision.
“I said, ‘Well mom if I’m the vet can I get a horse
then?’,” said Johnston with a smile. “And she said ‘Yeah OK,
three of them.’ Of course moms are going to tell you
whatever you want to hear, so thats where I developed that
Nothing else seemed interesting enough to
distract her from reaching her goal of becoming a vet.
Despite that fact that some of the prerequisites could have
led her in other directions.
When applying for a vet
program there are standardized tests you have to take, said
Johnston. When I applied it was either the Graduate Record
Examinations test or the Medical College Admission Test,
Those two tests are also taken when
applying for medical school. For some, that can be a
tempting career path to take.
“Some people say that
if you're going to take the MCAT you might as well go to
medical school,” said Johnston. “It comes down to what your
priority is, you got to have a passion for veterinary
medicine because you don’t make as much money as people
Going to vet school at Michigan State
University, Johnston graduated in 2009. It was while she was
in school that her interest in joining the Army began.
“I applied for the Army scholarship,” said Johnston. “We
had a recruiter that came in and talked about opportunities,
going places, and I love to travel.”
classmate who had already graduated, joined the Army, and
had photos of a mission to Africa, the interest was real.
Soon, Johnston was accepted for the scholarship.
Situations that were going on with family life put a hold on
plans with the Army, said Johnston. I declined as the four
year obligation after school wouldn’t work well with the
current family life, said Johnston.
getting beginning work in the veterinary field, the idea of
joining the military would eventually come back. Some advice
she followed would ultimately lead to the Army Reserve.
The recruiter explained the benefits of joining the
reserves as opposed to active duty, said Johnston. I was
able to get into the Army life and still do missions while
maintaining my civilian life, and so I joined in 2011, said
Since joining, Johnston has not only helped
animals, but the people around her as well. Soldiers new to
the veterinary field in the Army have had the chance to
learn from her.
“She’s awesome, she is very willing
to train and show me new stuff,” said Spc. Jessica Hurst, a
veterinary assistant assigned to the 169th MDVS. “She was
right there beside me when I did my first catheter so she’s
For Hurst, joining the Veterinary Corps
also comes from a passion for animals. Having previously
been a photographer assigned to combat camera and deployed
to Iraq in 2016, she made the decision to switch and has
spent the past six months with her new unit.
August 3, 2017 - Army Capt. Janet Johnston, a veterinarian assigned
to the 169th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services prepares to
operate on Pokey to spay her as part of the Smoky Mountain
Innovative Readiness Training mission, Hayesville, NC. The IRT
program meets training requirements for active, reserve and National
Guard members and units while addressing public and society needs.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell)
as I love photography, I like animals more,” said Hurst.
“It’s what I want to do in my civilian career whereas
photography is more of a hobby and I can always keep it as a
As a brand new member to the 169th MDVS, the
14-day IRT is Hurst’s first mission with a veterinary unit.
Rather than be overwhelming, it can be just the opposite.
“It’s hectic but fun,” said Hurst. “They have been
pulling me from surgery prep to vaccines while asking what
happened to a different pet, which is hard, but it’s been
The IRT brings these medical services to
underserved communities across the country, several times a
year. For the local pet owners to be able to access such
care, it has been invaluable.
“I assumed the military
had vets,” said Ansley Walker-Pina, owner of a deer-head
chihuahua named Tinkerbell, who is in for vaccinations.
“Though I didn’t know they would offer services to the
The 169th MDVS was able to offer relief both
financially as the services are offered at no-cost through
the IRT, and since pets in the community are vaccinated they
won’t transmit disease. Very important, especially with how
meaningful a pet can be.
“I didn’t know how I was
going to afford services for either of my pets,” said
Walker-Pina. “They’re family. It means the world for me to
see them happy.”
Getting out into communities has
been a highlight for Army veterinarians such as Johnston. To
be able to help others is the highlight of service.
“Missions like this, honestly,” said Johnston. “Where we can
help the community and make a difference while doing my
passion are my favorite memories of serving.”
Missions such as this have taken her from Wisconsin to
Puerto Rico, to her home state of North Carolina, leaving
Johnston with fond memories of the Army experience. Memories
that will last after her service eventually ends.
married, we are going to have kids,” said Johnston. “I’m
probably going to finish out my contract and then stay home
and raise kids.”
Johnston would recommend the
Veterinary Corps to anyone with a passion for animals.
Though she stresses it has to be for the right person as it
is challenging, but will also bring rewards.
have to be a leader, you have to have drive,” said Johnston.
“It’s for people who want to get out and experience life.”
By U.S. Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell
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