Preparing animals for their military duties - Veterinary Practice
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Preparing animals for their military duties

LAURA RILEY looks back on the first six months of her veterinary career

I DOUBT that my first six months in practice have been quite like those of my peers and friends from veterinary college.

It seems a long time ago now – that day in July when five years of grafting, stressing and being a vet student dogsbody were actually to come to a close and all the work was to become worthwhile.

On graduation I had very little idea what I was diving head first into, but I knew it would be different. The reason for the difference? I would be joining the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC), a small and specialised part of the British Army, with the role of selecting and maintaining working animals for military duties both in peacetime and in theatres of war.

Third-year choice

My decision to take such a specialist career path had been made back in third year, as I really began to think hard about what I wanted to do with my life. By the age of eight, I had decided on my career after reading James Herriot, and now, it was time to find a job.

I’d always had the RAVC in the back of my mind, mainly because I’d always wanted more than “just a day job”. I loved college, and I loved my degree, but during my five years at London I did so much more than just be a student – social sec., year rep, rugby captain; and I knew I needed that kind of balanced lifestyle to continue. So I took the plunge and applied to the RAVC. And the Corps took the plunge and decided to accept me…

I started on 1st September last year, and since then life has been pretty much a whirlwind. Veterinary officers spend just four weeks at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, on a short course especially for professionally qualified officers, along with doctors, nurses, dentists, lawyers and padres.

Through necessity the course is very intense, and having no previous military experience I absolutely loved it. We covered all the essentials: navigation, field craft, radio procedure, a good dose of physical training.

The field exercises were pretty hectic: some dark rainy nights spent navigating round the Sandhurst training area, its varied and alarming insect population being the closest I’d got to animals in quite some time!

After passing out of Sandhurst we moved on to a course designed for officers of the Army Medical Services, and after its completion in December our initial military training was over and it was time to put down the rifles and pick up the scalpels once again.

Vocational training year

The first year for newly-qualified military vets is a Vocational Training (VT) year, which is a framework for both military and clinical development before your first official posting.

The VT year involves a clinical placement within a PDSA hospital – I’m currently working at PDSA Leicester, and it’s absolutely fantastic.

I’ve become a lot more confident with surgeries such as neutering, and have got some excellent consultation experience under my belt. I’ve seen a whole range of patients, many of which I’m unlikely to come across during my military career – unless, of course, small furries find a niche within the British Army!

The rest of the VT year will be spent at the Defence Animal Centre, Melton Mowbray, working with military dogs and horses. This work involves the procurement through to the retirement of military working animals, and everything in between.

So what does the future hold? At the end of my VT year I will be posted to 104 Military Working Dog Unit in North Luffenham, UK. This will be a two-year post, with one deployment, which is likely to be a six-month tour of Afghanistan.

Have I made the right career choice? For me, absolutely. I love what I’m doing and have never looked back, not for a second.

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