By Eve Meinhardt, ParaglideJune 11, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- After serving 15 months in Iraq, Sgt. 1st Class Boe and Sgt. 1st Class Budge, 528th Combat Stress Control, 44th Medical Command, made the march across the tarmac at Green Ramp on Pope Air Force Base June 6.
The 528th CSC, 44th MEDCOM's mission in Iraq was to treat deployed Soldiers for any stress they may have experienced while overseas. Boe and Budge helped the unit accomplish its mission.
The two noncommissioned officers are black Labrador retrievers, serving their country by providing combat stress therapy. The dogs were donated and trained by America's VetDogs, an organization dedicated to training dogs to serve the special needs of Soldiers.
"The combat stress dogs give the unit another tool in their tool box when they are talking to Soldiers about what they are going through," said Mike Sergeant, chief training officer, America's VetDogs. "Almost everybody likes dogs. These two served as an ice-breaker when patients talked with a combat stress technician, helping the Soldier to open up and relax."
Boe and Budge primarily provided the Soldiers with emotional comfort, just by playing, playing fetch, getting petted or providing a sympathetic, nonjudgmental ear.
The dogs trained six months for their duties and each had an assigned handler who visited the center to train with them for 10 days.
"Each of the dogs receives special conditioning. They must be well-mannered, relaxed and open to individuals," said Valerie Cramer, instructor, Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind. "They trained near gun ranges, around helicopters and were conditioned for wearing special gear."
That special gear included their own Army combat uniforms complete with boots to protect their foot pads from the excessive desert heat and packs so they could carry their own food and supplies. The dogs were trained to carry their own loads so they wouldn't add to the load of the Soldier caring for them.
"Their job is to compliment the work that the Soldiers do over there, not to add more work," said Cramer.
The two Soldiers who lived and worked with Boe and Budge each day were Capt. Ceclia Najera and Staff Sgt. Syreeta Reid, both from 528th CSC, 44th MEDCOM.
"He helped a lot and made everything easier," said Reid, who took care of Budge. "We spent a lot of time together and it is going to be really hard to say goodbye. I know I'm probably going to cry."
This was Boe and Budge's second tour in Iraq. Their first deployment was with the 85th Medical Detachment out of Fort Bliss, Texas.
Even though their deployment is over, Boe and Budge, just like the other Soldiers in their unit, will continue their military service. The dogs are still in the Army, America's VetDogs is only taking temporary custody of them to help recondition them for their next assignment at Fort Gordon, Ga.