By Reggie Jarrett
Jax Air News Editor
U.S. Army Capt. Katherine Weber arrived as the head veterinarian for Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville's Veterinary Treatment Facility (VTF) June 25 and she is exactly where she wants to be.
"I love my job in the military," she said. "I cannot imagine going to private practice because I get to do so many different things. I also get to run my own clinic, which is something that someone three years out of vet school doesn't often get the opportunity to do."
Weber not only heads the VTF and food inspection mission at NAS Jacksonville, she is also the branch chief in charge of the veterinary missions at Naval Station Mayport, Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, Moody Air Force Base (AFB) and Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Growing up on a farm in Ohio, Weber decided early on that she wanted to do veterinary medicine. While attending Ohio State University, she applied for the Health Professions Scholarship Program for the military and was accepted.
"I have been active duty for three and a half years, this is my third assignment. I was at Fort Campbell for my internship, then Shaw AFB, and now here."
Weber likes the variety of assignments she has as a military veterinarian. "I like that every day is different," she said.
"At Fort Campbell, I had the opportunity to go to Air Assault School. At Shaw AFB, I did training with flight surgeons. I have done missions where I have gone to Trinidad inspecting food supplies. I assist with training people who are going on deployment. It's exciting!"
Weber also enjoys the training she gets in the military. "We go to a lot of different kinds of schools and learn new skills," she said.
As a veterinarian in the Army, Weber works closely with military working dogs (MWD) and their handlers. "I see the working dogs every month, and some I see more than that," she said. "We really get to build a relationship with them and their handlers."
MWDs are highly trained dogs that have special health needs. "They are very athletic and high-drive dogs," Weber said.
"They have a lot of athletic needs, such as rehab and conditioning and they get tons of exercise. They go through physical training just like the Sailors and Soldiers."
MWD handler MA1 David Smith explains the training he does with Baba, a four-year-old German Shepherd, who is trained as a drug detector.
"Every day we train on patrol and on detection," he said. "He starts to learn my behavior and the things I do, and I learn his behaviors and we work to build on that each day."
Handlers and their dogs stay together for an extended time.
"Generally, We stay with our dogs for the duration of the time we are stationed here," Smith said. "The longer you have the dog, the more rapport is built and the better the dog team."
This working relationship is based on confidence. "Me having confidence in him, him having confidence in me," Smith said.
MWDs are not the only patients for Weber and the civilian veterinarian at the VTF Dr. Heidi Graves.
Household pets make up the majority of their clientele. "Pets that are owned by active duty, retirees or dependents, and Reservists who are on orders have access to the clinic," Weber said.
The NAS Jax VTF is managed by the Army Veterinary Service and is a full-service veterinary clinic offering services including minor sick call appointments and wellness visits such as new puppy and kitten vaccines, routine pet immunizations, testing for intestinal parasites and heartworms, and health certificates. Routine surgery and dentistry are also available as well as digital radiology, ultrasound, and in-house and external laboratory analysis.
Surgeries are typically done on Tuesdays, but it depends on the how the VTF is staffed on that day.
Weber has found a home as a military veterinarian. "I have gotten to do things I never thought I would get to do," she said. "My peers who graduated with me have spent lots of time in the clinic, but I get to travel and see so many different things by being in the military. It's a huge difference."
The VTF is located in Building 537 on Biscayne Street. It is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. - 4 p.m., but is closed for lunch from 12:15 p.m. - 12:45 p.m. For appointments and more information, call (904) 542-3786.