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Feature Stories

NEWS | June 13, 2020

Joint Efforts Lead to Life-Saving Transport and Treatment of Military Working Dog

By Story by Sgt. Trevor Cullen Task Force Spartan

The sight of a helicopter for the average deployed Soldier is not exactly a noteworthy event. That is unless the passenger happens to be of the four-legged variety. 

Cvoky, a 120-pound Belgian Malinois, who serves as a U.S. Air Force military working dog, was recently rushed to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, with a potentially life-threatening condition.

"He did not seem like himself… we went and took his temperature and found out it was 109.9 deg.," said Cvoky's handler, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Juan Reyes. "We rushed him right to the medical tent."

Cvoky fell victim to what many humans do during the heat of the summer months, a heat injury. 

"Heat injuries are very common, both for military working dogs and for humans, especially at this time of year in this part of the world," said Capt. Jon Drake, the veterinarian officer in charge of Kuwait. "Hydration and appropriate work-rest cycles are important for prevention. Fast response in case of an injury makes all the difference."

Although common, heat injuries for MWD's can have severe and long-lasting consequences different from humans, especially if not identified and treated quickly.

"There are a few different things that happen when an MWD has a heat injury," said Drake. "A lot of injuries happen internally; one thing is they stop being able to clot their blood appropriately, which can lead to internal bleeding."

While treatment was being managed at the scene, medical assistance was being arranged and thanks to Task Force Spartan's 1st Battalion, 189th General Support Aviation Battalion, with Soldiers from both the Indiana and Montana National Guard, help for Cvoky was on its way.

"We had a call from a separate location that they had a dog with a heat injury," said Drake. "We immediately notified the rest of our team here [Arifjan]."

"This is my first experience with a military working dog," said Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Davis a medical operations noncommissioned officer with the GSAB. "We have always had training missions, but this is the first real-life experience."

Davis and his team worked to plan the UH-60 transfer of Cvoky from Saudi Arabia to Kuwait.

“This is a first for us doing an international country transfer of a working dog. Hard work, great planning and dedication came from our flight crews, medics and operations staff,” said the pilot in command Chief Warrant 3 Brett Milton, from the GSAB.

"Many dogs that reach high temperatures, like this one did, do not survive," added Drake. "So, we were very lucky that this particular instance was caught quickly, and treatment was given right away, and we were able to medevac the dog to give him additional levels of care."

The successful outcome for Cvoky can be directly contributed to and highlights the level of care available in the region.

"This facility [on Arifjan] is the role two-plus and three for the whole area of operations," said Capt. Melody Mullin. "My involvement was support. I ensured my facility was ready and had everything they needed."

"So, the roles for veterinary services are role one is at the point of injury and is basic care, role two is urgent surgical care, and role three is care with multiple different specialists and a broad-based level of care," said Maj. Tiffany Kimbrell, a board-certified veterinary surgeon, assigned as an animal medicine consultant. "If we were not here, the next level of care was 12 hours away, and if we waited that long there might have been a different outcome."

One unique challenge the patient faced was the need for blood. Like humans, dogs can only receive certain blood types, but luck seemed to be in Cvoky's corner.

"This particular patient needed a blood transfusion," said Mullin. "I facilitated getting the blood type of the dog we needed and having that blood ready for them when they arrived."

"We got the call that my dog Army might be a [blood] match," said U.S. Navy Master at Arms Two, Petty Officer 2nd Class Sera Tamez. "So, we came in, and he donated a pint of blood for the dog in need. It feels really good to help one of our own!"

"I think it's a success story," said Kimbrell. "Early recognition of the injury, great collaboration with the team, and also accessing the capabilities in the area to know where the MWD would go in a certain amount of time."

"It is very important that Military Working Dogs receive the highest level of care," she added. "They are force multipliers."

Drake also attributed the rapid response of Cvoky's handler to the successful outcome.

"We are very fortunate that, in Cvoky's case, the handler acted fast," said Drake. 

"The degree of veterinary training I have helped out," said Reyes. "It’s training I learned in tech school along with the wisdom from other handlers. Cvoky is totally back to himself. Right now he is just relaxing and enjoying life. This was definitely a happy ending." 

Overall, this mission was unique and incredibly successful because of the multi-component organizations, made up of active Army, Air Force, Navy, and Army National Guard components, rounded out by U.S. Army Reserve support units.