Army veterinary technicians and food inspectors from Fort Benning are joining the fight in Afghanistan. About 60 Soldiers with the 463rd Medical Detachment (Veterinary Services) left Sunday and will spend the next year practicing animal medicine, treating military working dogs and protecting the food supply for coalition forces in Operation Enduring Freedom. Leaders said the unit’s veterinary support will blanket about half the country.
“We’ve been busy training hard for the past nine months. We’re ready to go,” said Lt. Col. Scott Hanna, the detachment commander. “This is why we’re in the Army.”
The 463rd traces its roots to 1965 but got deactivated five years later following a Vietnam tour. It was reactivated last October at Fort Benning and stands as one of eight veterinary detachments spread across the United States, Europe and Asia.
In Afghanistan, the unit will be headquartered in Kandahar but work in nine different locations, Hanna said. It’s the first veterinary detachment from here to deploy in the war on terrorism.
“We have several Soldiers who are brand new to the Army,” he said. “A lot of them have some nerves and anxiety about being separated from their family and friends.”
Sgt. Christian Wonders, 26, a food health inspector, was among those deploying to the Middle East for the first time. A single father, he had to leave his 5-year-old son, Landon, with family back home in Ohio.
“It’s kind of tough,” Wonders said. “He’s at the age where he doesn’t know exactly what’s happening. All he says is, ‘Daddy’s gonna go fight the bad guys,’ so that’s kind of cool. He’s a pretty smart little kid.
“I’m trying to keep positive about it. I’m actually looking forward to it — go over, do my time like everybody else.”
Hanna said the 463rd Medical Detachment (Veterinary Services) will help prevent disease outbreaks by conducting food safety inspections of all products entering the theater, including meals-ready-to-eat. A food-analysis lab is available for scientific testing.
The Soldiers assist with controlling the stray-animal population on installations, he said, but providing care to military working dogs is a big priority. Under Department of Defense standards and guidelines, the German shepherds and Belgian Malinois breeds are trained to look for explosives and narcotics.
“They’re a huge force multiplier for keeping Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines safe,” he said.
Armed with a handful of veterinarians, including Hanna, the 463rd carries full medical and surgical capabilities to Afghanistan.
“We’re looking forward to some pretty good challenges,” he said. “There will probably be some long hours and a few late-night emergencies along the way with the dogs.”
Col. William Drennon, the 14th Combat Support Hospital commander, praised the Soldiers and families who gathered July 19 for the detachment’s deployment and casing ceremony at Freedom Hall.
“After 10 years in the war on terror, America remains very proud of your service,” he said. “You families have endured an awful lot as well. Your role is extremely important as you take care of business at home.”
Hanna’s wife, Kristi, a co-leader of the 463rd’s family readiness group, said the FRG has several activities planned and a network in place to keep everyone informed. It’s vital for younger spouses to keep themselves busy, she said.
“Be supportive of your husband. It’s a super important job they do,” she said. “Use the time as an opportunity to get to know the other families and maybe do something special for yourself.”
The Hannas own a German shepherd named Tyler, and Kristi said he’d certainly notice her husband’s absence.
“Tyler is going to miss him letting him out at 5 o’clock in the morning,” she said.