Combating Combat Stress In The War Zone
January 14, 2008
Often during our lives, we encounter things that cause us stress. Sometimes we deal with the stressors in a positive manner and other times, we have difficulty dealing with those things. For our Troops who are deployed, not only do they have the stressors that all of us have, such as bills, dealing with the people around us, and family matters, but those stressors are compounded by being in a warzone and far away from home, where they have little or no control over what’s occurring at home. Add to that the stressors that are common in a combat zone… the constant sound of mortar fire, the hustle and bustle of the FOB they’re deployed to and the fact that they have to remain constantly alert and aware of what’s going on around them. Then top that off with the constant threat of the enemy and possibly wittnessing the death or injury of a fellow Soldier. Because of all the stressors that our Troops face downrange every day, the Combat Stress Control units can sometimes be quite busy.
Imagine going to the Combat Stress Center for help to deal with something and meeting the Sergeant 1st Class at the unit and having that Sergeant 1st Class lick you in the face. For many of the Soldiers visiting the Combat Stress Center on COB Speicher, such an occurrence isn’t something that makes them feel uncomfortable, but something that they consider a regular occurrance. The newest member of the 85th Medical Detachment Combat Stress Control unit at COB Speicher, SFT Boe, is more likely than not, to give the Troops who visit a good swipe across the face with her tongue. SFC Boe is one of two K-9 therapists that is being used by the Army to help prevent and control the stresses of living in a combat zone.
SFC Boe, a therapeutic dog being used in Iraq to help Soldiers relieve stress, sits in the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division Operations Center on January 10th. Photo by Spc. Richard Rzepka, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (AA) Public Affairs.
The value of pet-assisted therapies has long been known. Pets have been used in nursing homes, hospitals and rehabilitation centers for many years as therapeutic tools. Dogs and cats have been used in places such as Brooke Army Medical Center as part of the therapy of the Wounded Warriors there. SFC Boe works close with SSG Mike Calaway, an occupational therapy assistant with the Combat Stress Control unit, as part of a new Army program that encourages Soldiers to interact with dogs in order to help relieve the psychological stresses of war.
The two dogs, both black Labrador Retrievers, were donated and trained by America’s VetDogs and are the very first dogs used in a combat zone for therapeutic purposes. America’s VetDogs is part of a larger non-profit organization called Guide Dog Foundation for the Bling, which has been working to provide guide dogs for blind people since the 1940s. Because they recognized the therapeutic value of dogs providing such specialized services to America’s fighting forces, VetDogs recently initiated the therapy dog concept in the combat zone. The purpose of the dogs is to provide comfort and relaxation for stressed Soldiers, through physical interaction.
“I feel more relaxed after being able to spend some time with her,” said SFC Brenda Rich, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Medical Operations. “For a few minutes it was just me and the dog and nothing in this environment seemed to matter.”
Prior to deploying SFC Boe to COB Speicher, SSG Caloway spent two weeks in New York, to develop a bond and train with SFC Boe. After the training, he and SFC Boe returned to COB Speicher, where he introduced her to the Soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. So far, the response from the Soldiers there has been outstanding, regardless of whether they need help or not.
According to Calaway, because of the various stressors that can affect deployed Soldiers, SFC Boe helps to break the ice and aids the Soldiers in opening up and talking about the issues that they are struggling with in their lives. The major types of stressors being seen are operational stress, homefront stress and issues with sleep. According to Maj. Charles Kuhlman, 1st BCT Chaplain. often Soldiers will adopt or befriend the stray dogs, especially on outlying bases. Doing so, offers them companionship and gives them the feel of home, since many of them have dogs waiting for them back home.
“The Soldiers absolutely love her,” said Maj, Kuhlman. “Dogs make a huge difference in morale.”
I think it’s great that the Army is recognizing the value of pet assisted therapy and are utilizing this therapy method down-range. I can’t say enough about the successes that I’ve seen when pets are used as a therapeutic tool. I’m sure that the Army will find huge success with this program and I’m hopeful that will lead to expansion of the program.