K-9s Play Key Roles with Soldiers, Veterans

Sgt. Stubby. (Source: Purple Heart Foundation)

“Man’s Best Friend” doesn’t tell the whole story. Our K-9 companions are also a Soldier’s Best Friend and a Veteran’s Best Friend. Dogs have served important roles in military operations for many years, saving countless lives on the battlefield and often decorated for their valor.

“Sgt. Stubby” was a dog who was the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment in World War I. This K-9 hero saved his regiment from mustard gas attacks, located and comforted wounded soldiers, and even held an enemy combatant by the seat of his pants until American soldiers captured him.

Stubby served in the trenches during four offensives and 17 battles and was under constant fire for over a month. In April 1918, he was wounded by a grenade, but after a brief recovery he returned to the trenches, locating the wounded and warning his unit of impending attacks.

Veteran's Best Friend
British paradog. (Source: World War Wings)

A few days from this writing will be the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. On that day, specially trained British “paradogs” parachuted into the front lines, proving invaluable in locating land mines and booby traps and sniffing out enemy personnel. These heroes undoubtedly saved the lives of many Allied soldiers.

Today at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, a new mission for military dogs uses the same personal and psychological benefits that civilians get from their dogs. Para-rescue jumpers have some of the most stressful and demanding jobs in the military. They’re on non-stop 24/7 alert, then deal with soldiers (and civilians) being blown up and shredded. The psychological stresses that come with that can be hard to deal with.

Serving on and off the Battlefield

Their most important support comes from another highly trained military specialist… a chocolate Labrador retriever. He’s not a pet, a mascot or a bomb dog. He’s trained to sense when someone on the team needs help emotionally, serving a function similar to civilian support and service dogs. This is believed to be the first dog assigned to a specific unit and to deploy with that unit.

Unlike most working animals, he’s trained to work with several different handlers, and like his D-Day forbears he is trained to parachute with his handlers.

We know military dogs have saved many lives on the battlefield, and now also serve specialized roles as service and support animals. But perhaps the most important and life-saving mission for these animals is continuing to serve our military personnel after they have returned to civilian life.

Leo the Service Dog
BROTHERHOOD—Leo relaxes with Rafael Stoneman. Courtesy photo

Leo is an enormous all-white malamute mix. He was rescued by a homeless Veteran named Rafael, but Rafael would likely tell you it was the other way around. Leo provides all the usual benefits of a pet, but Rafael found that Leo did far more.

Without Leo’s presence, Rafael’s anxiety would cause him to lose his temper more frequently, and for less cause, than appropriate. With Leo at his side, Rafael found that he has far more control over his emotions, his social interactions, and most importantly, he’s got a much longer fuse than before.

How to Help

Leo got a second chance, Rafael found an effective partner in managing his interactions, and they both have a much higher quality of life. Considering the high costs of treating service-related behavioral health problems (and the even higher cost of not treating them) you can’t call Leo “Rin Tin Tin.” He’s absolutely a Win-Win-Win.

For veterans, integrating back into civilian life can be even more difficult and dangerous than fighting a war, and they fight this battle without the support and protection of their fellow warriors.

For those also dealing with homelessness, there’s an even greater disconnect from society and fewer supportive relationships. Companion animals trained in emotional support and behavioral wellness are heroes that represent an effective and low-cost way for homeless veterans to manage post-traumatic stress disorder and other service-related issues.

Leo and Rafael provide mobile Veteran Outreach for Gold Coast Veterans Foundation, and can be reached at 805-482-6550.

Bill Berle is the development officer for the Gold Coast Veterans Foundation. To learn more about veterans services or to help veterans in need, please call the foundation at 805-482-6550 or email info@gcvf.org.

Veterans Events for June

June 6: Marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day. On June 6, 1944, nearly 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of coast in Normandy, France to fight Nazi Germany, leading to the liberation of Europe and the end of World War II.

P51 Mustang.

June 8, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.: D-Day Anniversary Event, Commemorative Air Force Hangar, 455 Aviation Dr., Camarillo. In remembrance of D-Day, June 6, 1944, the Southern California Wing of CAF will celebrate the 75th anniversary of one of the most pivotal events in military history. They will discuss the impact of the P51 Mustang on the conduct of the war and the invasion of mainland Europe. Man O’ War will be on display and available for inspection, also P51 “Miss Kandy” will be present and you can see her startup and fly out back to her home hangar in Torrance following the event. For more information, call 805-482-0064.

June 14: U.S. Army’s birthday. Since its birth, June 14, 1775, the U.S. Army has played a vital role in the growth and development of the American nation.

June 14, 9-11 a.m.: National Flag Day Ceremony, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. 

June 23, noon to 3 p.m.: Disabled Veteran Sail Day, Channel Island Yacht Club, 4100 Harbor Blvd., Channel Islands Harbor, Oxnard. The annual event takes disabled veterans an afternoon sail, then back to the club for food, drinks and giveaways. RSVP is required by June 16. For more information, contact Bill Brayton by email at bbrayton@atra.com or call 805-822-7544.

Source: VC Star article from June 2, 2019