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August 12, 2011


Service dogs help Soldiers readjust

Story & photo by Tom Michele, Eagle Systems & Services

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. Photo by Tom Michele
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.”

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