Helping war dogs heal
Alumnus, 1996, 2001
On the front lines of war zones, military working dogs serve alongside American soldiers, helping protect and save lives. And when those four-legged warriors are injured, a Spartan veterinarian is among those who are prepared to save them.
MSU alumnus Major Kent Vince is the director of Dog Center Europe, a clinic in Germany that is the first stop for dogs evacuated from combat zones throughout Europe, Africa, and Afghanistan. A former MSU ROTC member, Vince earned his bachelor’s degree in animal science and a doctor of veterinary medicine degree before he was deployed with the U.S. Army as a board-certified veterinary surgeon.
“Military working dogs are the four-legged soldiers,” says Vince. “They are on the front lines, at the tip of the spear, you might say, looking for explosive devices, finding things that could potentially harm our soldiers. When a working dog is injured, we owe it to them to do everything possible to save that dog’s life.”
Alumnus, 1996, 2001
I’m Kent Vince, major, United States Army and director of Dog Center Europe. I’m a board-certified veterinary surgeon in charge of this referral veterinary hospital where we take care of military working dogs throughout Europe, Africom, and also the Central Command theaters of operation.
You never know where life is going to take you. I was an Army ROTC graduate at Michigan State. Spent four years there and then went into veterinary school at Michigan State. Upon graduating from vet school I did an internship. I knew I was going to go on to active duty in the Army but had no idea where I’d end up. It’s the needs of the Army, and they tell you where you’re going to go.
Tommie—a tactical explosive detection device dog who was injured while on a mission in Afghanistan—the injury he has he will recover from, and he should do pretty well. Once he does fully recover, then he’ll go back into training and then back on the duty. Military working dogs are the four-legged soldier. They are on the front lines, at the tip of the spear, as you might say, looking for explosive devices, finding things that could potentially harm our soldiers. When a working dog is injured, we owe it to them to do everything possible to save that dog’s life.
These dogs provide such a tremendous value to the combatant commanders on the ground. In talking to a lot of the handlers or infantrymen who are on the front lines, when they see that there’s a working dog that has joined their team, they breathe a little bit of a sigh of relief. They realize we’ve got somebody that’s got a great nose, can find those explosives, and help save us. This particular dog and this dog handler, the team, they are a team. They eat together, drink together, sleep together, they work together and so those two develop a really, really strong bond.
The handler was holding Tommie as they were moving back from whatever the area of conflict was and as he was hanging on to Tommie, that’s when the explosive device went off and the shrapnel hit Tommie in the ankle. It could have been a much worse situation. That shrapnel could have hit Tommie in a different location, potentially killing him. It could have hit his handler and then the handler might have been in the hospital, or ultimate sacrifice would be to have succumbed to that wound. Thankfully, in this case, Tommie was the one who took the injury for his handler and I’m sure that his handler feels very strongly that Tommie saved his life.
If I can do a little part here, at this clinic here in Germany, to help those dogs heal or prepare those dogs for going downrange on deployment then that’s a great thing. It’s probably just a tiny, tiny little bit of helping to save somebody’s life or help protect somebody downrange.
I definitely have a strong tie to Michigan State. Everybody in my family went to Michigan State; my mom and dad, my brother and his wife, my sister and her husband, and myself and my wife. Now my brother’s daughter. That will make the third generation of Vinces at Michigan State. It’s pretty awesome. Anywhere you go in the world I think you have a Spartan S or a Sparty helmet on your shirt, you instantly have a connection to that person and you’ve got a common bond.