From lowly pack animals hauling essential supplies to powerful steeds pulling chariots and carrying mounted warriors, animals have been a part of military operations since time immemorial—and animals require maintenance and care just like any piece of military equipment. But while the Army had long recognized the need for professionals to care for animals such as horses, mules, and donkeys, the Veterinary Corps was not established until June 1916.

Animal caregivers had been employed by the Army since the Revolutionary War, when Congress approved George Washington’s request that every Cavalry regiment include a farrier to shoe horses (they also typically had general veterinary skills from having worked so closely with horses). Union Cavalry regiments during the Civil War included a veterinary surgeon (carrying the rank of sergeant-major); in the decades following the war, Congress passed legislation requiring Cavalry veterinarians to be graduates of accredited veterinary colleges, and authorized the acquisition of equine medicinal supplies for Artillery regiments.

The scope of Army veterinarians’ work expanded to include the inspection of food products—poultry, meat, and dairy—that was being sent to outposts in the American West, requiring them to acquire at least foundational knowledge in areas such as epidemiology and pathology and to learn the core principles of public health. During the Spanish-American War, the need for food inspection and quality control became highly visible as untold numbers of Soldiers stationed in Cuba and Puerto Rico were sickened by the consumption of tainted beef. Indeed, the need to ensure food safety for Soldiers was the prime factor in the creation of the Veterinary Corps, since the use of horses and other animals in battlefield operations was already beginning to decline with the rise of mechanization in World War I.

Food safety continues to be one of the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps most important areas of concentration, as members of the Corps are tasked with approving food sources from across the globe as being safe. Its track record of success is remarkable, especially considering the size and speed at which some contingency operations have been carried out. Other responsibilities of the Veterinary Corps include working to develop defenses against chemical and biological attacks and conducting research and development into vaccines, antidotes, and antitoxins. The Veterinary Corps is also charged with the care of Military Working Dogs from all branches of the U.S. Military, working animals from the Department of Homeland Security, ceremonial horses, and the pets of service members.

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