|Story & photo by Tom Michele, Eagle Systems &
Tag, a yellow Labrador service dog in training, and Soldiers from the
2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 34th Infantry Division, Iowa Army
National Guard met at Fort McCoy during the demobilization process for
the Army Guardsmen returning from Operation Enduring Freedom.
Spc. Andrew Johnson has a little
fun with Tag, a service dog, at a Fort McCoy administration
building. Johnson is with the 113th Cavalry, 2nd Brigade Combat
Team, 34th Infantry Division, Iowa Army National Guard.
Tag was brought to Fort McCoy with Staff Sgt. Dianna Raymond,
Health Services Section medical support noncommissioned officer with
the Iowa Joint Forces Headquarters, which assisted with the return
of the 2nd BCT.
Raymond said she is assisting the Iowa staff in reviewing Soldier
line-of-duty determinations and assisting returning Soldiers in
developing their awareness of a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD) service dog. “This is for any veteran of any conflict, and we
work with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the service-dog
program and Paws and Effect.”
Highly-trained service dogs retrieve dropped objects, open and close
doors for wheelchair-bound veterans, interrupt nightmares and
flashbacks, remind their owner to take medications, warn of
approaching strangers and reduce anxiety and stress.
Tag has been trained to eventually be assigned to a combat veteran
needing special care due to PTSD. The Iowa Guard will continue to
assist in screening recipients for the program.
These dogs help combat veterans with PTSD identify sounds that
aren’t dangerous, thereby putting the veteran at ease in the middle
of crowds. This program honors and empowers Wounded Warriors,
increasing their independence and making a significant difference in
their lives, Raymond said.
The dog’s actions may be as simple as resting its chin on a Wounded
Warrior’s knee to reassure him and help stave off a panic attack.
“One of our Iowa veterans returned home from a difficult tour,”
Raymond said. “He was home-bound and couldn’t tolerate crowds,
traffic, or even the medications to control his PTSD symptoms. He
had flashbacks of combat, and, while dreaming, his dog came to him
and saved him. After he worked with his service dog he smiled for
the first time in five years. Our service dogs are four-legged
therapists, they make us more human.”