Wendy Evans, DVM, MS, a 2018 graduate of the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine who also earned a master of public health degree, was recently offered a position with the United States Army Special Forces. Capt. Evans, a native of Marshfield, Missouri, has served in the Army as a veterinary officer since 2015. “I wanted to be in the Army before I wanted to be a veterinarian,” Evans said. “I decided later in life that I wanted to be a veterinarian, and they had a really nice scholarship and all these things just began to line up. It just began making sense, and to this point it’s still interesting, fun and I like it.”
As a veterinary officer, Evans takes on many tasks that differ from a civilian veterinarian’s responsibilities. Currently based at Fort Hood, Texas, she handles clinical medicine for around 40 working dogs and 40 horses, as well as soldiers’ pets across four military installations. She manages wild and stray animals around base, and alongside on-site human medical professionals, bite cases. Evans also assists in managing the safety of food and water for soldiers. “If you think about it, it used to be the responsibility of veterinarians to ensure animals being fed to the military were healthy, as a result, veterinarians are still holding that bag,” Evans said. “So now, for example, I go out and monitor tortilla factories and other commercial production facilities to make sure that they are safely storing and handling that food.”
Evans said that the military also handles global health engagement missions, making it possible to ensure public health for soldiers deployed overseas.
In addition to such specific tasks, U.S. Army veterinarians are really jacks of all trades. For example, Evans was sent to the Army versus Air Force football game on Nov. 6, to monitor the safety of the food that was being provided to service members. Evans said that additional responsibilities aren’t any different than those of other soldiers. “That’s one specific mission set,” she said. “There’s then the entire scope of other things that a soldier or officer in the Army might be doing: managing soldiers, counting equipment or doing mandatory training are some examples.”
When it came to being selected for the U.S. Army Special Forces, Evans said that individuals are chosen based on merit. Being physically fit and demonstrating an interest in field operations are important. Evans has gone through a number of training courses that made her stand out. “I’ve done things that aren’t even related to being a veterinarian at all,” Evans said. “I did the Expert Field Medical Badge, where I did day and night land navigation, trauma lanes for human casualties that included putting on all of our protective gear, treating patients, moving casualties around, and sweating a bunch. There’s also a 12-mile ruck march and a PT test. That helped me stand out, as it has a 10-15 percent pass rate amongst the medical community. I’ve also done air assault training, which is basically learning how to rappel out of helicopters without getting hurt. Just getting out and doing rugged Army things.”
Evans said author, veterinarian and former U.S. Army officer Elliot Garber has helped guide her military career through his blog, “The Uncommon Veterinarian.” Throughout her time at Mizzou and after, Angela Tennison, DVM, associate dean for Academic and Student Affairs at the CVM, has also been an important mentor, Evans said. “I really struggled during vet school. During my first weeks I found myself crying on Dr. Tennison’s floor and she helped me through many rough patches. She’s been a huge help to me in my life and career.”
Evans also shared her appreciation for the dogs that she works with every day and those that she will be training. “The dogs are the only soldiers that get drafted,” she said. “I feel really strongly about taking care of them. These dogs save so many lives. They do a lot for the military, like find bombs that could injure our soldiers and keep drugs off our installations. One of the biggest ways that this new job helps me contribute is that I’m actually training those front-line people who are going to be there to treat the dogs when they get injured. These small purposeful units are well-trained and tactically capable, and these dog teams are responsible for saving the lives of these very skilled and very specifically trained soldiers. I definitely feel passionate about them.”
By Nick Childress