'Troop' comforts wounded warriors
July 22, 2010
FORT CARSON, Colo.-The image of a Soldier is usually that of a camouflaged person, weapon in hand, body armor slung over his body as he goes about his duties.
One image that can sometimes be forgotten, though, is the four-legged Soldier, dutifully doing what he is commanded without any regard for their own safety.
Billy was just such a dog. A Dutch shepherd which spent 10 years on active duty in the Air Force-three of which were spent overseas as an explosives detection dog-he sustained injuries that forced him into retirement. Though the exact cause of the injuries is not known, Billy was burned, injured four vertebrae, had nerve damage to his legs and a puncture wound to his right shoulder, according to his owner.
Although retired by the military, Billy stayed connected to the service through a fellow Soldier who was being medically discharged herself. Lani Sing, serving the last two years on Fort Carson as a medic, following her discharge had a long road of rehabilitation ahead of her. She found help when she found Billy through an online service where people can adopt retired military working dogs. Together, she and Billy started on the road to recovery.
"(Without Billy,) I don't think I could have ever made it," Sing said. "I was in so much pain I didn't feel like doing anything. He actually got me up, made me walk every day because he has to walk. I probably would have just been so depressed I couldn't do anything."
Sing and Billy recuperated together. Eventually Billy was brought back into the military life, only this time in a different capacity. He now makes weekly visits to the Soldier Family Assistance Center on Fort Carson to interact and provide loving companionship with other wounded Soldiers. Almost like magic, simply the presence of Billy seems to have the ability to ease pain and calm the mind.
"One of the Soldiers, she was really upset," Sing said, "And we just went (and) took Billy swimming out at Townsend Reservoir. It totally changed ... her whole mood. She didn't even feel pain anymore because she was so busy playing with Billy."
The SFAC has many therapy dogs that come through as a way of helping Soldiers, and while they can be a good form of therapy, Billy's military service and experience overseas in combat can make him more relatable to Soldiers.
"It helps Soldiers relate," said Master Sgt. Lisa Belsher, Traumatic Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance and Combat Related Special Compensation advocate at the SFAC. "How often do you have a war hero dog in (here)' Where he's actually been out there, done the same things you've done. And of course the dog gets to experience some of the same things the Soldier does."
Billy seems to love the military and everything that goes along with it. He, like most Soldiers, is well trained, has a high level of discipline and is ever vigilant in his everyday routines.
Sing said every time she comes home, she locks the deadbolt when she shuts the door.
"So Billy knows that's how we do things. One day I came home and didn't lock the deadbolt and we went to bed. Well he kept alerting me that he needed to go downstairs, so I let him and he stood by the door until I came down to lock it," she said.
After 10 years of service, Billy didn't take his retirement lying down and let his owner know that he was ready to go back to post.
"After I went on transitional leave, he was getting really bored," Sing said. "I had packed all my uniforms away and he went out into the garage, found my beret and sat down in front of the door with my beret. He wanted to go back to Fort Carson."
And back to Fort Carson they went, allowing many Soldiers the chance to enjoy the comforts of having a furry friend and fellow wounded warrior to comfort them.
"(Billy) brings a lot of joy to a lot of the guys that come in (the SFAC)," said Spc. Juan Rivera, Company C, Warrior Transition Battalion. "A lot of guys just come and sit down, and Billy sits next to them all day. It's an excellent feeling to have a calm spirit next to you."
Because of Billy's combat experience and injuries sustained while performing his Soldierly duty, he has earned the respect of many Soldiers that both work in the SFAC, and those that visit.
"I just admire and respect what the dog has gone though, and what he does for the Soldiers here," said Belsher. "To see a dog that's done so much for us, to protect their owners, to go out there on the front lines. And to come back and sit there, (and) even though they can't speak, it's like they share their stories just by knowing what they've (the Soldiers have)gone through."
Billy has greatly impacted the life of Sing and in turn, has allowed her to try to impact the lives of other wounded warriors. He is at the SFAC usually on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. and stays for a couple of hours.
"This is the best decision I've ever made," said Sing. "I won't have him very long, but when he passes away, the only dogs I will ever have are the retired military working dogs."