Captain Lowe joined the Royal Army Veterinary Corps a little over eighteen months ago with, she said, her eyes open:
The main roles in which I could expect to be employed were as a Veterinary Officer in a Military Working Dog Squadron, at one of the mounted units or at the Defence Animal Centre in Melton Mowbray,” she added.
On tour I was likely to be confined to Camp Bastion catering for the day-to-day needs of the military working dogs and constantly prepared to respond to K9-liners - reports on injured working dogs based on the normal ‘9-liners’ which report the status of injured troops.
What actually happened was that Captain Lowe was detached from her unit to the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) as the civil-military co-operation vet liaison officer - what she describes as ‘a different ball game altogether’:
My role is hearts and minds-based, and ultimately aims to support the development of the Afghan veterinary system,” Captain Lowe explained.
But simply providing treatment for the livestock held by local national farmers - mainly sheep, goats and cattle with the odd donkey or camel thrown in for good measure - is just the tip of the iceberg.
I have found myself collaborating with a whole host of civilian-run departments within the PRT and investigating the reach of various non-governmental organisations operating in the veterinary field.
Over the past few weeks I have really had my eyes opened to a whole world whose existence I had previously barely acknowledged.
As part of this strategy, Captain Lowe runs veterinary engagement clinics - the most recent of which was run from a checkpoint in the Combined Force Lashkar Gah area of operations.
The clinics prove popular, with the most recent having received approximately 700 livestock in the morning alone, including two very bemused chickens, a herd of goats that had been brought in because they were ‘lazy’ and a sheep that was reported to be ‘dizzy’!
However, it is often the people as much as the animals that Captain Lowe needs to work with, as she explained:
I was approached by a member of the Afghan National Police [ANP] from the front gate as a farmer from that morning had returned to the checkpoint with a dead sheep, reporting that I had killed it with medicine.
He had come seeking compensation for his loss from the Military Stabilisation Support Team representative - worth up to $150 for a sheep. However, on examining the sheep’s carcass, which had been carried in on the back of a very patient donkey, the diagnosis was clear.
Rather than suffering a fatal reaction, of which there was no evidence on the body, to the extremely safe worming product that had been administered, the more probable cause of death was loss of blood as a result of a deep incision to the throat.
The farmer countered that he had killed it pre-emptively as he could tell that the medicine was going to kill it but by this time the interpreter, the crowd of ANP who had come over to investigate the commotion, and the farmer’s friend who had accompanied him into the checkpoint were laughing openly as the story about the sheep’s sorry demise was looking more and more far-fetched.
In a last ditch attempt to salvage something from the situation the farmer asked once more whether he could have compensation, although the sheepish look on his face said he already knew the answer.
Compensation is awarded to farmers who have lost livestock as a direct result of ISAF action - for example if they are caught in an artillery strike or involved in a road collision:
This incident illustrates that the farmers are aware of the scheme, but also highlights the negative effects that inappropriately awarded compensation could have,” Captain Lowe explained.
Had this farmer successfully gained the lucrative payout, I have no doubt that a dozen more sheep would have met their maker prematurely that day!
While numerous British troops are taking the fight to the insurgents in Helmand province, others, like Captain Lowe, are helping to pave the way for reconstruction in the country:
In a conflict such as this,” Captain Lowe says, “where the key terrain is undisputedly the population, it is hard to understate the importance of the role played by the PRT.
Captain Lowe is blogging from Helmand on the UK Forces Afghanistan blog site - see Related Links.