Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras –
It’s 7 a.m. on the farm. The air is thick with dust from the hooves of a herd of Brahman cows crossing the dirt-covered pastures. A boy with bright eyes and calloused hands is roping and wrangling the 2000-pound cattle with no help from an adult and with all the skills of a cowboy.
The boy is only eight years old.
This is an image U.S. Army Maj. Jake Lowry, Joint Task Force-Bravo veterinarian, recalls from his first Veterinary Readiness Training Exercise when he arrived at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, five months ago.
“I was thinking back to when my kid was eight and the different lives they have had, and that has really stuck with me as to just how impressive, hard working and resilient the people of Honduras are,” said Lowry.
Part of the JTF-Bravo Veterinary Team’s mission is to add another skill to the already expansive knowledge of the Honduran and Guatemalan farmers by teaching them to provide veterinary services to their animals.
“We start out these [Veterinary Readiness Training Exercises] by doing all of the procedures ourselves,” said Lowry. “By the end of it, they are doing all of the procedures on their own. We are providing them with the skills and tools to continue to care for their animals.
“The whole goal of the VETRETE is to work with farmers to show them how to take care of their animals,” Lowry continued. “The second goal is working in tandem with SENASA, [part of the Ministry of Agriculture for Honduras], to build partnerships and find the areas that are most in need.”
The importance of providing care to the underserved areas and austere locations cannot be understated and is not lost on the JTF-Bravo leadership.
"After the Command Sergeant Major and I spoke with the local Ministry of Agriculture representative and the local Rancher’s Association President at a recent VETRETE, we learned that annually ranchers may lose up to 50% of their herd due to ailments found in the area,” said U.S. Army Col. Steve Gventer, JTF-Bravo commander. “When we asked how our team and these vaccinations would help with that, they told us that working with our amazing vets, learning from them during the VETRETE and these vaccinations for the herd decreases that mortality rate to just 15%, providing food stability, economic opportunities for the ranchers in the region and a chance to grow the herd in the future.”
For 2022 thus far, the veterinary team has treated more than 300 pigs, 350 sheep, 1200 cattle and 2000 chickens in Guatemala and Honduras with plans to treat many more by the end of the year.
“Most of the focus in Honduras is cattle, but we have treated chickens, horses, pigs and goats as well,” said Lowry. “In Guatemala, we treated a lot of poultry and sheep.”
The team provides preventative veterinary services, vaccinating against a disease called black leg, as well as other diseases. The animals are also dewormed from internal and external parasites and provided vitamins.
“During the dry season, the food for the animals is less reliable so they are relying on food collected during the rainy season, which tends to have less nutritional value,” said Lowry. “The vitamins help fill in those gaps.”
The veterinary team also contributes to the health of Soto Cano Air Base.
“The job here is a little bit more than the VETRETEs,” said Lowry. “We take care of military working dogs, who have a special place in my heart. We also have the public health mission that includes managing the stray population and the food safety of the base.”
After being a part of six VETRETEs, Lowry was able to grow partnerships and relationships with everyone he met.
“The most rewarding part of this job is that the people we are helping are so appreciative,” said Lowry. “They were always trying to feed us and take care of us. They also really care about and value their animals. They asked questions in every village we went to so they could better understand how to care for their animals.”
Lowry says the knowledge and skills gained from the opportunity to serve in Honduras and serve the Honduran people will travel back home with him.
“The VETRETEs are probably my favorite because it gives me a chance to work with the locals,” said Lowry. “They have taught me so much and I’ve gained some new roping skills thanks to some Honduran cowboys. Learning from them has been my favorite part of the mission.”
As the new three-person team replaces Lowry’s, they will continue the work of the teams who came before them, serving the local farmers while nurturing the animals and partnerships they have built and continue to build in the region.