JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Family, friends and service members assembled for the 218th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services, “Viper Vets,” deployment ceremony at the U.S. Army Reserve Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Feb. 13.
Fourteen months after returning from a successful mission in Iraq, the 218th MDVS cased its colors in preparation for a deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. More than 50 soldiers from the 218th MDVS will be responsible for both the health and welfare of human service members and their canine counterparts throughout Southern Afghanistan.
“The soldiers you see before you today have chosen to serve their nation. Today we are not just honoring their service to our country, but we are honoring the commitment they made to prepare and train for a constantly changing and very challenging mission in Afghanistan, not knowing the potential outcome,” said Lt. Col. Kimberlee Aiello, 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion commander and guest speaker at the ceremony.
Aiello placed great significance on the word “choice” and how the 218th MDVS often went above and beyond during their pre-deployment training.
She cited their participation in two culminating training exercises, one with the 47th Combat Support Hospital, and another at the Mission Command Training Center, where the soldiers practiced communicating through interpreters and addressing issues specifically modeled to simulate what their experience will be in Afghanistan.
Additionally, the unit partnered with Public Healthy Command for on-the-job training and supported the 191st Infantry Brigade with observer trainers to help them develop their mentoring and coaching skills.
She also recognized those soldiers who remained with the unit and would be deploying once again to do their duty away from their families.
“Their choice has a monumental impact on our Army and on our deployed forces. For the Army Medical Departments’ primary mission is to ‘prevent injury and illness in our formation,’” said Aiello. “Our veterinary detachments are the forefront of this effort and the Viper Vets have taken this to heart as they diligently prepared themselves for this mission.”
At the conclusion of her speech, Aiello charged the unit to follow these instructions: work as a team, do what is right and help others do the same and relish the opportunity to make an indelible mark on Afghanistan and its history.
The unit’s colors were then cased to symbolize the movement of the unit to a new theater of operation.
“Before you stands well-trained and prepared soldiers, ready to deploy to the theater of Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom,” said Lt. Col. Heather Serwon, 218th MDVS commander.
For this, she credited support from the battalion, 62nd Medical Brigade and the installation.
“To my staff, wow, we are almost there, and we have one foot out the door. You are the very best, and I can’t wait to see how well your efforts, planning, coordination and hard work pay off as we arrive in theater. To my soldiers, noncommissioned officers and officers, you look great, and I am extremely proud to be part of this unit. And finally I would be remiss not recognizing our unsung heroes in here, our families and friends, you are the backbone, the glue which holds our unit together as we are deployed,” she said.
During her speech, Serwon acknowledged that not many people understand the purpose of an Army veterinary detachment. But theirs, she stressed, was a critical and diverse mission.
The unit is charged with ensuring the health of the force through food and water inspection. They are also responsible for the military and contractor working dogs who support the fight through routine and emergency care, providing the highest level of emergency care canines can receive while in Afghanistan.
The importance of working dogs, used in combat tracking, search and rescue, mine detection and improved explosive device location, cannot be underestimated, she later said.
“One military working dog can on average do the job of ten people. They are a huge component to our force and being able to combat the war on terrorism. Without them it would make our jobs extremely more difficult, just in IEDs alone,” said Serwon. “They are treated just like any service member would be. They get the utmost in medical care, and we are definitely there to provide that.”
With the audience made aware of their mission, their training and their readiness, the ceremony concluded and the soldiers were released to enjoy refreshments with their families and friends. For some, this ceremony was familiar and for others, it was their first.
“My wife is a little nervous, this being our first deployment, so I know there are a bit of mixed emotions for her, but I’m very excited to go. I’ve always wanted to serve my country,” said Pfc. Brian Meyer, a veterinary food inspection specialist and Braselton, Ga., native. “I know it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’ll never have another first deployment. I’m hoping that it will go well, and I’ll come home safely to my wife very soon.”
Meyer stressed his connection to the importance of his job and his desire to support other deployed soldiers.
“I make sure that soldiers eat well. I don’t think there are many jobs more noble than that. I’ve always gotten a lot of satisfaction out of feeding people. I love to cook for my friends and family, so I love making sure that our cooks are doing a great job, meeting the Army standard and using safe practices,” he said.
Although Meyer cannot know what his life will be like yet in Afghanistan, he was certain his unit would be successful in their mission.
“I’m very confident in my leadership. I think I have the best OIC and NCOIC in the Army. My NCOIC is, I think, the best food inspector in the Army, and I know he is going to make sure that I know what I need to know and do what I need to know to get my job done,” said Meyer.