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Assignment: Afghanistan

Long before joining a veterinary mission to Afghanistan, NC State’s Jim Floyd felt comfortable working in camouflage.

The ruminant health professor spent 30 years in the Army before joining the university as a department head in population health and pathobiology, just before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

After almost eight years in academic leadership, he put on the uniform again at age 60 for an Army National Guard assignment in the Horn of Africa. Last June, he was recalled for duty with the Kentucky National Guard Agricultural Development Team II, based at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.

The military has an interest in veterinary care because healthy animals mean healthier families, a stronger government and more stability in the region. During his yearlong deployment, Floyd has enjoyed a Wolfpack reunion, training veterinarians in Laghman Province with a team that included Eileen Jenkins (above), a 2006 NC State veterinary graduate.

Floyd gave deworming treatments to Afghan fat-tail sheep in Marjah, Helmand Province, in December.

On the Hoof

Afghanistan’s agriculturally based economy includes about 20 million sheep and goats. While many are part of family flocks, a semi-nomadic group, the Kuchis, has herds of up to 30,000 animals. Floyd has seen cattle, milk cows, donkeys and horses, though he hasn’t treated any camels yet.

“Animals are wealth here, almost like a bank account on the hoof,” Floyd says.

Because Afghanistan has animal diseases like foot and mouth, which hasn’t been seen in the United States since the 1920s, no animals are exported.

After 30 years of turmoil, a brain drain has depleted what was once a well-staffed diagnostics lab in Kabul. While doing postmortems on sheep and goats recently, Floyd found himself wishing his colleagues could have access to the kinds of labs back at home in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

He helps train veterinarians and paraprofessionals, working with the ministry of agriculture, Afghani veterinary schools and nongovernmental organizations.

Although he feels camaraderie, working through translators to communicate technical information in Dari, a Persian dialect, has its challenges. “In one session, I realized I was on the footnote level, the subparagraph level, and my interpreter was on the table of contents,”  Floyd says, chuckling at the memory.

Floyd held a postmortem training session for Afghani veterinarians.

Working with an interpreter, Floyd conducted a post-mortem training session for Afghani veterinarians in Panjshayr Province this month.

Cultural Challenges

To build support for basic veterinary care, including vaccinations and parasite control, Floyd has a research and demonstration project with 12 flocks of sheep on local farms.

The Afghani focus on the here-and-now—the present and the next few days—poses complications for Floyd, who has to plan farm visits well in advance because he travels in a convoy of four armored vehicles for security reasons.

One of his most vivid memories is trying to get on the same page of the calendar to schedule farm visits. It doesn’t help that the Persian calendar splits months differently, in addition to being read in the opposite direction (right to left, from the bottom).

Lessons for the Professor

Floyd looks forward to sharing his experiences with students and colleagues when he returns to NC State.

One message that’s hit home for him is the importance of secure borders and a regulatory network that protects American agriculture from devastating diseases.

“When I teach about preventing disease outbreaks, I emphasize that this is not just an academic exercise or a test. This is something that could really happen someday. Veterinarians are our first line of defense.”

Even if they don’t wear camouflage.

Responses (5 Comments)

  • Allen M. Gomez

    Well-written article telling me what my old friend from LSU has been doing on his tour of duty. I had asked him to tell me what a typical day in Afghanistan was for him. This article told me how serious and important this mission is.

  • Allen M. Gomez

    well written & informative aricle telling me what Jim is doing in Afghanistan. He is still the classic over-achiever and is to be much admired not only for his patriotism, but for his contributions to Afghanistani Vet. medicine.

  • Allen M. Gomez

    Am looking forward to seeing Jim whenever he returns stateside. Haven’t seen him since 1976 when I left LSU. allen

  • J. Scott Mercer

    Very good article , D’Lyn! Most of us in the west are oblivious to the actual goings-on in Afghanistan, and this stuff is certainly what we can be proud of. Col. Floyd is doing the Lord’s work for sure, and we are proud that Americans like him make the choice to sacrifice private pursuits for a greater good. We pray for his safe return, and hope his influence extends well beyond his tour of duty. Thanks for publishing this and look for more of your work.

  • Bob Ford

    Hope Dr. Floyd gets to hone up some on his skills in poultry medicine over there! We need him back home and wish him all the best and a very safe return from his duty in Afghanistan.

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