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For some veterans struggling with the lingering wounds from their military service, they’ve found support and companionship in man’s best friend. While service dogs come in many shapes, sizes, and perform different roles depending on their handler’s needs, there is a growing number of groups training service dogs to assist military veterans.
The nonprofit, K9s For Warriors, is one such group that trains service dogs to help post-9/11 military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and military sexual trauma. K9s For Warriors is accredited by Assistance Dogs International, a service dog standards group.
Since K9s For Warriors was founded in 2009, it’s grown from a staff of three to more than 36 employees and has helped more than 200 veterans receive service dogs. As part of the program, participants take part in a 21-day course where they live on site at the training facility in Palm Valley, Florida, and work with their service dogs six days a week, according to Brett Simon, the director of operations at K9s For Warriors.
In addition to the training each dog receives prior to meeting their veterans, they will train with their handlers for roughly 120 hours before graduation from K9s For Warriors.
Simon spoke with Task & Purpose about how their service dogs are trained; what services they provide their veteran handlers, which the nonprofit refers to as warriors; and how veterans and their service dogs build and strengthen their bond.
For the service dogs, the training begins months before they meet their veterans.
“It takes us about four to five months to get them ready, and that’s with a civilian trainer on site,” explains Simon, who adds that roughly 95% of their service dogs are rescues from shelters or come to them after an owner surrenders the animal.
Simon says they will occasionally select specific breeds for hypoallergenic reasons, like labradoodles and poodle mixes for veterans or family members who have allergies.
A handler and his service dog train together.Photo courtesy of K9s For Warriors
Additionally, the service dogs need to be under two years or younger, must weigh a minimum of 54 pounds, and be at least two feet tall to qualify for the program.
“The reason for the weight and the height is for the weight we need them to be sturdy for the guys to use them for brace,” says Simon. “They’re not putting all of their weight on them, but for enough to assit them up.”
“Brace” is one of several commands taught to the service dogs, and it allows the handlers to put some of their weight on the animal when they’re standing up.
The dogs are taught a number of commands to help their handlers deal with stress, anxiety, and limited mobility.
“We have a few dogs that have gone through the program that have been trained to retrieve items, do some other things for them that they’re not physically able to do,” says Simon. “We have one dog that’s trained to help [the veteran] pull his clothes off — he’s unable to bend over and get his socks and shoes off, so the dog would do it for him. That’s on a limited case-by-case basis.”
Simon explains that in addition to “brace,” the service dogs are taught to disrupt nightmares.
“Some of the guys sleep really heavily and have nightmares and the dogs come over and wake them up,” says Simon. “We’ve seen a lot of improvement from the surveys we do with our graduates that the night terrors are starting to dissipate. The guys who were saying they were getting two and a half hours of sleep are up to five hours of sleep a night now, so the dog has definitely benefited them being there.”
Another command is called “my lap,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like.
If a handler is feeling anxious or uncomfortable, he or she can call their service dog to them as a way to relieve tension and stress.
“But we do teach the command as well as a training command to come in their lap and to press against them, and the compression and also the petting reduces stress and anxiety and lowers blood pressure and things of that nature,” says Simon. “That’s one of the ways we get the dogs to do that; we ask them to come in their laps as trainers.”
As a handler and the service dog forge a stronger bond over time through training and the liberal use of treats, the dog will respond intuitively to the veteran’s needs, Simon explains.
“Once they make that bond, the dog normally starts to alert the veteran on their own that something's going on here … and they can take the focus off of whatever’s stressing them to try to reduce that anxiety,” says Simon.
'It just happened' — the Iraq War’s first living Medal of Honor recipient recalls his harrowing fight against 5 insurgents
On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.
Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.
In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.
With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.
After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.
Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.
McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.
Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.
The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.
They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.
It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.
WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions onIran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.
Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."
"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.
While it can be difficult to peg down just how star-spangled a state is, one indicator is the rate at which citizens enlist in the military, especially during the United States' longest period of sustained conflict. At least, that's the thinking behind WalletHub's new study, 2019's Most Patriotic States in America.