2005 graduate and affiliate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine
Dr. Bradley Fields is an affiliate professor in the Department of Pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine and an adjunct faculty member of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. He is a captain in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, 358th Medical Detachment, and in 2010, deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, serving there for a year. He is director of emergency programs for the Homeland Security/Emergency Preparedness Section within the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries and provides leadership for the Agricultural Geographical Information System, emergency operations center and numerous local, regional and state committees and advisory boards. He was recently honored with a Young Alumni Achievement Award from the Office of Alumni Affairs.
1. What led you to the Army veterinary corps?
I graduated veterinary college in 2005. I got a master's in public health in preventive medicine and I was speaking at Public Health Day as a veterinarian with the Department of Agriculture when an Army colonel with the veterinary corps came to me afterward and said, 'Why aren't you in the Army?' I was like, 'I've never thought about it.' 'The Army is everything you just talked about and more.' And so we started talking and I eventually linked up with a health care recruiter. Long story short, I applied to the Army Veterinary Reserve Corps and in April 2008 I commissioned as a captain and joined the veterinary detachment in Tuskegee. Shortly thereafter, our unit was identified for deployment to Afghanistan, so everything happened pretty fast. We deployed in August 2010 as a unit covering the entire country of Afghanistan - providing veterinary services that mainly covered food safety and military working dog care. Any animal owned by the Department of Defense or contracted by the Department of Defense, we cared for it.
2. What was your experience like in Afghanistan?
When my squad and I arrived in Afghanistan, our hospital was in a field expedient tent and we were there for a few weeks. It was pretty primitive. We were able to move into a more hardened structure, actually a brand new building. We didn't have running water; we had limited medical supplies. We didn't have a lot basically; it was just a shell. So, I spent the next five or six months building it up, trying to get potable water, medical shelves and equipment and getting the operating and triage rooms fully set up. By the time we left, it was probably the best trauma center in Afghanistan. It was fantastic, and I left Afghanistan very proud to have been a part of this effort.
My mission was food safety and defense, and Department of Defense animal care. We covered the area of south Afghanistan, so all the dogs in Helmand province were medevac'd or transported back to my hospital for care. We provided 24-hour care - anything medical, surgical. We had a robust dental facility, thanks to Dr. Gary Beard and the amazing education provided at Auburn. I think Auburn graduates get a much more robust dental education and they are able to do more advanced procedures, which really, really benefited our mission down range. Without this capability onsite you would have had to medevac the dog back to the States, or to a referral center, or rely a lot on the human dental staff to get many of the issues fixed.
3. While you were in Afghanistan, you cared for an injured steppe eagle. What can you tell us about that experience?
Part of our charter in Afghanistan was to do vector control and manage feral animals when they were trapped. The contractor who traps animals found an eagle lying in the back of a container lot, so he brought it to the hospital. I did my initial exam to make sure it didn't have any broken bones or other significant and obvious trauma; you can't really do a lot of rehab in Afghanistan, so before we did anything I wanted to make sure it didn't have significant structural damage. Everything checked out okay from cursory examination.
It was really an awesome eagle. I had on leather gloves, and I was expecting it to start attacking me, but it stayed very calm. It just sat with its mouth open and stared at my team when we were working with it. It was really dehydrated and hungry, and couldn't fly at all. So we kept it there, put it in a cool environment, gave it nutrition and rehydrated it for 24 hours to see how it would turn out. It would open its mouth and we would syringe water in from a distance.
We kept it in a dog crate overnight and the next morning we got it out and took it to a remote field on camp. We let it get acclimated to the temperatures outside the hospital and it seemed to be doing just fine. We opened the cage door and sat back and watched the eagle for a while as it walked out of the crate, took a quick walk around the outside of it, then it just took off! It soared into the mountainous area in the background, and for a brief moment, we all forgot we were in an austere environment on the other side of the world. It was an amazing experience.
4. Your background is in public health and preventive medicine. What advice would you give to students who might be interested in this field?
Certainly, it's not going away - with international trade and global commerce continuing to grow exponentially. Go to the grocery store today and you'll be hard-pressed to find less than 60 percent of your products that weren't produced outside of our country. So with all the shipping, the more industrialized processes, and processing facilities, when something happens, it happens big. Whether it's E. coli in spinach, contaminated baby formula, or a product in your dog food, it's never going away. Some of the issues and challenges that we have experienced are only going to increase as the years continue, so if there's an interest in public health and preventive medicine then it should be pursued.
5. How have your experiences influenced your thoughts on public health and veterinary medicine?
The more experiences I have, the more I travel, and certainly adding the Army experience on top, I see the more global picture of veterinary medicine. It reminds me of what veterinarians were initially chartered to do: herd health, preventive medicine, eradicating brucellosis, tuberculosis, all the diseases that impacted humans and changed many of our predecessors' lives forever. That was the purpose of a veterinarian - to protect public health. As we know and learn more about the protection of public health and homeland security issues and the threat from terrorist groups internationally and within the United States, the common thread and core message is that these threats are going to be in each of our lives for the foreseeable future. If there are students who are interested in learning more, they should explore. They should do internships; they should talk to people in the field about their career paths!
To read Auburn Veterinarian's complete interview with Dr. Fields, go to the Summer 2011 edition at http://www.vetmed.auburn.edu/news-at-the-college/auburn-veterinarian.