Captain Miles Malone of Royal Army Veterinary Corps is the British Forces’ only vet in Afghanistan. Dubbed “The Herriot of Helmand”, he has become a minor sensation in the province after starting a raft of veterinary clinics for local farmers.
Captain Miles Malone is the British Forces’ only vet in Afghanistan. Dubbed “The Herriot of Helmand”, he has become a minor sensation in the province after starting a raft of veterinary clinics for local farmers.
However, in contrast to the gentle adventures of James Herriot in North Yorkshire, Capt Malone’s work is at the other end of the spectrum, undertaken with the protection of well-armed Afghan and British soldiers. As part of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, his principal job is caring for the dogs that sniff for roadside bombs and provide protection to the troops on duty. Keeping them at their peak is important, as the work they do saves lives.
However, in the seven months that he has been in Helmand, the 28-year-old from Mount Bures in Suffolk has begun a series of monthly clinics for the remote farming communities around the main British base, Camp Bastion.
These clinics have proved wildly popular so, with only a few weeks to go before his tour of duty in Helmand comes to an end, Capt Malone packed his kit and prepared a selection of drugs for another clinic, carrying enough equipment to treat up to 2,000 animals in two hardened cool boxes.
While he has been running regular clinics, this one was different – it took an RAF Chinook to fly him out to a small, newly constructed, patrol base established after the largest helicopter assault codenamed Operation Moshtarak pushed the Taliban out of Nad Ali.
After landing at Patrol Base Shaheed which was set up by soldiers of B Company, 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, he was straight out on a patrol to spread the word.
The range of animals in Afghanistan may be a little different to those in the UK but, to the farmers, they are their lifeblood, Capt Malone explained.
“These animals are basically their bank accounts – some of these goats are worth $70 each. A lot of people round here are surviving on about a dollar a day so economically they are extremely important,” he said.
Over this tour the clinics have had a noticeable effect, not only on the health of the herds, but in loosening the grip of the Taliban over the people. Capt Malone has treated over 8,000 animals, and this clinic at Shaheed has added a further 61 farmers to his program.
He said: “There is very little understanding among the local farmers of veterinary care or basic animal husbandry. So I split my time when I run clinics between treating the flocks and educating the farmers. The Taliban just cannot compete.”
Major Ed Hill, the officer commanding B Company, 1st Bn The Royal Welsh at Patrol Base Shaheed, said: “The village that we are living in is largely an agricultural community. Having the opportunity for a vet to come down and deliver medication, treatment and also advice to the local farmers has been a real win. In part because it displays our intent to stay here and that our actions are in support of the community. But it also adds back to the economy here because it increases the value of the livestock and educates the farmers, so it is a win on both fronts.”
But what of the future and sustaining this work?
Capt Malone’s replacement has just arrived and following on from his success a second military vet has been sent out to concentrate on expanding the clinics.
However, while the military may have started the ball rolling, they need the Afghans to take over and run it for themselves. This is where non-government organisations like the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA) are helping. They are working to train Afghan veterinary technicians who can continue the work long after the British troops have gone home.