Thursday, February 7, 2019

State Vet: On a mission to make a difference

Chris McGann

Dr. Brian Joseph's service with the Army Reserve Veterinarian
 Corps has taken him to places like Central America.  
State Veterinarian Brian Joseph will deploy overseas with the Army Reserve this month, leaving his duties and responsibilities in the capable hands of other WSDA staff until early fall.

But before he ships out, Dr. Joseph shared his path to enlisting in the Army Reserve’s Veterinarian Corps, the war zones he has found himself in over the past 10 years, and his motivations for service.

Trying to join the Army at 56

It began in October 2007 when the flames of a mammoth wildfire were encroaching on San Diego, where Dr. Joseph had gone to attend a veterinarian conference. He remembers a sense of frustration as he watched the fire raging along highway.

“It occurred to me, as a private veterinarian, there was very little I could do in the case of a humanitarian or natural disaster,” he said.

Man’s best friend

Almost as clearly as the black smoke and helpless feelings are burned into his memory, so too is his recollection of a fine military dog, a Belgian Malinois named Ringo.

Dr. Joseph says he can't walk past a do and not talk
to it. Dogs apparently like talking to him, too. 
Ringo was posted at an Army recruiting booth at the conference.

“I met Ringo and stopped,” Dr. Joseph said. “Because I can’t walk past any dog and not talk to it. It’s impossible.”

During that fateful pause to make acquaintance with Ringo, a recruiter introduced himself and made a pitch that would change the course of the next 12 years of Dr. Joseph’s life.

“As I’m talking to the dog, the recruiter starts talking to me about the humanitarian missions that the Army Veterinary Corps does,” Dr. Joseph said.

“This sounds pretty interesting,” he thought, petting Ringo all the while. “I talked to him for two hours!”

Getting to YES

Dr. Joseph quickly secured his wife’s permission to enlist, but Uncle Sam was not as supportive.

Dr. Joseph was 10 years too old when he first applied and the military rejected his application – several times. But Joseph says he’s terrible at, no.

It took two years and the intervention from none other than Ross Perot, to finally get to yes. In 2009, Dr. Joseph entered boot camp as the oldest veterinarian ever admitted to the Army Reserve.

Seeing the world

Since then, Dr. Joseph has traveled the globe on at least six humanitarian missions. Today he claims the title of oldest veterinarian in the Army’s inventory.

Though the Army’s missions have, by definition, military objectives, Dr.  Joseph say’s his motivations fall more in line with the “winning hearts and minds” category.

His teams helps partner nations with public health, animal health, agriculture, engineering, and rebuilding schools and hospitals. He has helped with livestock husbandry in Guatemala, rabies vaccinations in Belize, and agricultural development in Central Africa.

Dr. Joseph considers it an honor to work with the communities he meets on
his Army Reserve missions.
“My goal is helping people with agriculture and helping their life be better,” he said.

Most memorable experience 

One of Dr. Joseph’s deployments sent him to Djibouti, in East Africa. It has a deep water port that provides a base of operations for many countries. In addition to the U.S. base, there are also British, Italian and Chinese military bases.

The people, Dr. Joseph said, are very poor.

“They’ve got no water, no electricity, little food,” he said.

Conditions were so bad that the livestock were eating “recycled paper.”

With the help of locals, including girls as young as 8 years old, who Dr. Joseph calls “the best goat catchers I’ve ever seen,” they immunized and dewormed about 800 goats as well as some camels and donkeys.

“One of them told our interpreter, ‘This is the first time anyone has ever come and demonstrated that they care,’” he said. “Everybody had come and asked them for information, but they’ve never demonstrated that they care. That’s my role on these missions. I want to know the people and I want to make their life a little better.”

WSDA Animal Services adjustments

In the near future, Dr. Joseph will deploy to Southwest Asia for his last mission. His 10-year waiver expires in September and at the age of 68, he has no plans to try to re-up.

“I like being married,” he said.

While he is gone, the State Veterinarian’s office and WSDA’s Animal Services division will maintain normal operations.

Assistant State Veterinarian Dr. Amber Itle will serve as Interim State Veterinarian, assuming responsibility for Animal Disease Traceability and Animal Health.

Jodi Jones will take over as WSDA Interim Animal Division Assistant Director with authority over administration, budget, Legislation, the Livestock Identification Program and compliance.