BHISHO, SOUTH AFRICA
BHISHO, South Africa - Amidst the dusty fields and mooing cattle in the rural Eastern Cape of South Africa, two veterinarians share a passion of caring for animals.
Shared laughter lays the soundtrack to this unfolding tale of friendship.
On separate continents, two individuals followed similar paths of becoming veterinarians in their respective militaries, never realizing that 8,700 miles away waited a friendship sure to last a lifetime.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dickie Vest traveled to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, to be a part of Shared Accord 13, where he worked side-by-side with South African Military Health Service Capt. François Van Huyssteen.
U.S. Army and South African Military Health Service members teamed up to support the local veterinarians by offering mobile veterinary services to rural Eastern Cape villages, July 29 through Aug. 2.
The two militaries partnered as part of a Humanitarian and Civic Assistance (HCA) during Shared Accord (SA) 13, a biennial training exercise involving in-depth cohesion during training scenarios designed to promote regional relationships, increase capacity and interoperability.
Yet, promoting regional relationships was only the starting point for veterinary counterparts, Vest and Van Huyssteen.
“It feels as if we’ve known each other for a long time,” said Van Huyssteen, veterinarian with the Military Veterinary Institute.
“Being able to work together is amazing—we love it.”
After a week of working and traveling together, they act like old friends, who no one would suspect were strangers just twelve months ago when they began planning the HCA.
“There’s never a dull moment,” said Van Huyssteen, as he recalled conversations during their free time and long car rides to and from the sites.
Dialogues peppered with laughter also led to discoveries of similarities between their work methods and equipment.
“It’s been very much like working at home as far as you don’t have a whole new system to understand,” said Vest, executive officer and veterinarian with 176th Medical Brigade, 809th Medical Command of Seagoville, Texas.
Vest teased at the beginning of the second day that things were running too smoothly, because previous humanitarian missions proved much less structured than this event.
“There’s a lot of places you don’t have the level of organization you have here,” said Vest.
Vest recalled working on missions that provided him with little more than a field and a rope. However, working with the Eastern Cape Veterinary Services, the team had the use of a portable gate framework that was in service for corralling animals in less than an hour and disassembled in just as little time, Vest said.
This type of organization directly led to a successful beginning to the weeklong event.
“We have exceeded our expectations every day,” said Van Huyssteen on the second day. “It’s not even 10 o’clock, and I think we are close to treating 100 animals.”
This fast start followed a successful first day, where they completed the treatment of more than 860 animals to include cattle, sheep, dogs, horses, pigs and donkeys, said U.S. Army Maj. Mike Adams, commander of Able Company, 82nd Civil Affairs Battalion of Fort Stewart, Ga.
Mobile veterinary services were available to a variety of animals and included rabies vaccinations and tick treatments, said Van Huyssteen.
Both militaries were working together to assist the Eastern Cape Veterinary Services administer medications to hundreds of animals each day.
“We’re here to reinforce civilian, government-ran veterinary services,” said Vest. “We’re complementing, supporting and funding programs and procedures that they have in place.”
During SA 13, both militaries aim to improve veterinary skills while learning from one another, but for Vest and Van Huyssteen, they leave this mission with a new friendship and strengthened perspectives.
“A soldier is a soldier around the world,” said Van Huyssteen. “We have the same values, and we have the same challenges.”
This work, Veterinary team bonds during Shared Accord 13, by SGT Taryn Hagerman, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.