CVM’s Col. Gull Works to Improve Army Equine Standards During Deployment

Published 2/28/2024

Tamara Gull, DVM, PhD, first joined the United States military in 1988. Fresh out of college, Gull became an active-duty member of the Navy, serving as a pilot for five years.

Tamara Gull, DVM, PhD, first joined the United States military in 1988. Fresh out of college, Gull became an active-duty member of the Navy, serving as a pilot for five years. During that time, it became evident to her that her military career path was not headed in a direction she wanted. She left the service to enroll at Tufts University College of Veterinary Medicine. After graduating from veterinary school and completing an internship, she began a residency.

“Once I was in my residency for about a year, it occurred to me that I could still do some military service, but I wanted it to be more in line with my current profession,” said Gull. “I was inactive Navy Reserve at the time but approached the Army about switching services. I officially joined the Army in 2000 and have been with them ever since.”

Gull, who works as an associate clinical professor in veterinary pathobiology at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine and as section head for bacteriology and mycology in the MU Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, is a colonel in the Army Veterinary Corps.

“As a reservist, I’m known as a DIMA or Drilling Individual Mobilization Augmentee,” she said. “Typical reservists do one weekend a month, two weeks a year, drilling with a Reserve unit, but DIMAs don’t do that. We are assigned as backfill to an active-duty unit, and more specifically as backfill to a specific person in an active-duty unit. I am assigned as backfill to Public Health Command, West in San Antonio, as a substitute for their commander.”

While serving as a DIMA, Gull can be called to serve for long or short stints at the discretion of the individual for whom she backfills. However, she says that it is not common. “Since it doesn’t happen that often, it essentially makes me an asset for that unit to assign to special projects,” said Gull. “One of the things I’ve been doing over the past several years is serving at the Army’s food and diagnostic laboratory that belongs to Public Health Command, West. I’m a microbiologist, so I spend a lot of my active-duty time working there.”

The Army Veterinary Corps has focused on military working dogs since the cavalry was decommissioned in the 1940s. While equine practice has not been a large area of focus, 12 Army posts still have horses.

In early 2022, after two horses in the most visible equine unit, the Caisson Platoon, which carries fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, died unexpectedly, the Army’s Public Health Command-Atlantic found the horses were living in unsanitary and unsafe conditions. Additionally, while other horses were still able to perform their jobs, many of them were found to be geriatric and unfit for continued labor.

“That caused a great deal of scrutiny to be focused on that unit, but secondarily on the entire Army equid enterprise,” said Gull. “That initiated visits to every post that owns horses in the Army, where the care of these horses was assessed. The Army doesn’t have many standard guidelines for horses because the cavalry was decommissioned 80 years ago. The Vet Corps was tasked with going to see how the Army was handling and managing horses, using documents propagated by recognized equine organizations that have published standards of horse care.”

In 2023, the Army called on Gull, as a known equine expert with rank in the Veterinary Corps, as its first choice for a higher visibility mission. In July, Gull received orders to go to Washington, D.C., for six months, where she was assigned to assist the Old Guard at Fort Myer with procuring new horses and assisting in establishing an updated set of standards for the care of Army-owned horses. With a group of equine experts, both reservists and active-duty, Gull reviewed an instruction on pre-purchase examinations for Army horses. “I was assisting an active-duty team created the previous year that just did not have time for these projects in addition to their regular duties,” said Gull.

Additionally, Gull reviewed and updated the equine formulary, the equine equipment list, helped draft an equine community of interest charter, and reviewed the curriculum of a new Army veterinary equine-specific training course.

Following site assessment visits in 2022, a report was presented to Congress with the findings. The horse-owning sites were then provided with documentation on living conditions and standards of care that could be improved. The same process is near completion for the 2023 round of visits, with the report to be delivered to Congress at the end of February. Gull says many sites made significant improvements, while others still have room to grow.

While Gull returned from active duty in December, she says when she is not busy at her CVM responsibilities, she is still putting the final touches on the report.

Gull joined the Mizzou VMDL in 2017. She says the support of her laboratory staff and that of VMDL Director Shuping Zhang, DVM, PhD, has been critical in helping her balance her military and civilian jobs. “Shuping has always been very supportive,” Gull said. “I would not have been able to leave for this long without my outstanding lab manager Jesse Bowman and amazing staff, Josh Hardesty, Jessica Mossman, Marion Butcher, Irene Ganjam, and resident Philma Muthuraj keeping the lab functioning smoothly. Regarding being deployed, being in the Army Reserve has always required any reservist to work above and beyond their day job. People who are not willing to commit a little bit of extra time don’t join the Reserves.”

Gull says that while the Army is doing a better job of taking care of its horses, there are still improvements to be made, and she is proud to have been a part of that effort. “I hope that this push to improve the overall care of horses in the Army continues beyond the tenure of our current corps chief, who has been the primary driver of the initiative,” she said. “I’m really happy to have had the opportunity to do this deployment. It’s one of the few times the Army has requested my specific area of expertise. This is the only deployment where they’ve said they need me for my equine expertise.”

By Nick Childress