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MWCs - the unsung guardians of the 332 AEW

“Garfield,” a “military working cat,” engages in his morning routine of big-game hunting Oct. 29, 2018. He is one of several felines whose “job” it is to control the pest population at the 332d Air Expeditionary Wing, Southwest Asia.  As per General Order number 1, these cats are not be touched, fed or cared for by unauthorized personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. John T. Stamm)

“Garfield,” a “military working cat,” engages in his morning routine of big-game hunting Oct. 29, 2018. He is one of several felines whose “job” it is to control the pest population at the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Southwest Asia. As per General Order number 1, these cats are not be touched, fed or cared for by unauthorized personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. John T. Stamm)

“Garfield,” a “military working cat,” engages in his morning routine of big-game hunting Oct. 29, 2018. He is one of several felines whose “job” it is to control the pest population at the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, Southwest Asia.  As per General Order number 1, these cats are not be touched, fed or cared for by unauthorized personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. John T. Stamm)

“Garfield,” a “military working cat,” engages in his morning routine of big-game hunting Oct. 29, 2018. He is one of several felines whose “job” it is to control the pest population at the 332d Air Expeditionary Wing, Southwest Asia. As per General Order number 1, these cats are not be touched, fed or cared for by unauthorized personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. John T. Stamm)

SOUTHWEST ASIA --

It’s the break of dawn here at our undisclosed location. The sun is peering over the horizon as dust and the smell of fresh coffee fill the air. The last remnants of a relatively cool evening breeze evaporate, giving way to what promises to be another routinely hot day.

Operating below enemy radar between an air conditioner unit and small shrub of inconsequential species, two dark-yellow eyes pierce through the early morning haze with ears tuned to the slightest sound of movement. All is still … wait!  Something’s amiss.  Belly crawl, slowly ... target acquired … ready trigger claw … POUNCE! 

Mission accomplished - target eaten!

“Garfield,” a breath-taking spectacle, is one of the “military working cats” who guard the inhabitants of this undisclosed location from unwanted guests such as birds and mice, which can be a hazard to residents and attract other, more nefarious pests such as snakes. 

“In their untamed state, these cats are natural-born sentries keeping us from harm,” said Capt. Brandon Wampler, 332th Air Expeditionary Wing flight safety officer. “Each has its own area of responsibility.”

Fleet-of-foot and rippled with muscle, Garfield patrols the corner of the base between “Tips and Toes” and the Base Exchange.  He is very friendly and affectionate towards humans, which could lead to his demise. Some residents can’t resist approaching him. However, he is not a pet; and feeding or caring for any animal here is in direct violation of General Order number 1. This order prohibits adopting pets or mascots of any kind, caring for, or feeding any type of domestic or wild animal due to the elevated risk of zoonotic disease (rabies). 

Touching or handling these animals present a health risk and is strongly discouraged. If an animal bites a human, the only way to test the animal for rabies is to kill them. The human victim will also have to undergo treatment for rabies, which according to sources in the 332d Expeditionary Medical Group is a very unpleasant process.

“We must avoid domestication of these cats,” said Wampler. “Any seemingly harmless contact could cause them to approach additional humans, thereby increasing the risk to both parties.  The only personnel authorized to handle the animal population are those in the safety office and the veterinary clinic.”

Capt. Justin Bergeron, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, is the officer-in-charge of veterinary services here. He claims that even though some of the cats here are vaccinated they still can carry diseases such as hook worms, round worms and pasteurella, a bacteria that lives in the mouths of most cats which can be transmitted through biting. He also warns that, in addition to violating General Order number 1, feeding these animals defeats the purpose of having them here.

“Cats are territorial, and having them here keeps other stray cats away,” he said. “They prey on birds and rodents as a food source. If they are fed by humans, they won’t hunt as much which allows the natural food supply to flourish which in turn will attract snakes and other predators. If a cat won’t hunt, we have to relocate them.”

Bottom line: leave the cats alone. 

Cats that have been given a health check, vaccinated and spayed/neutered are marked by a clipped ear. If you encounter one without its ear clipped, or a litter of kittens, please notify the safety office or the veterinary clinic. They will NOT BE HARMED. They will be treated accordingly and released back onto the base.

When asked for a comment, Garfield simply said “meow.” He then blinked his eyes, licked his chops, blinked his eyes again and moseyed off in typical feline demeanor, returning to his daily patrol. 

Happy hunting, Garfield.