Soldier's Best Friend

Article excerpt

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -The transition and reintegration phase following a deployment can be difficult for many service members. Each individual deals with the experience in a different way, so access to a wide variety of organizations and resources to ease the process is important.

K9 Soldiers was one of many organizations on hand to provide information and assistance to returning Soldiers during the 99th Regional Support Command's Yellow Ribbon Event, Feb. 26, 2011, here.

K9 Soldiers is a 501(c)(3) charity organized to support, benefit and improve the lives of military working dogs and their handlers. The routinely sends care packages filled with such as leashes, harnesses, training equipment and canine shampoo, to deployed handlers and their dogs.

However, military working-dog handlers make up only a tiny fraction of the armed forces. Realizing that many other service members benefit from working with a dog, JT. Gabriel, founder of K9 Soldiers, decided to try to expand the unique bond between service member and canine to those who performed other missions while deployed.

"Anyone who knows dogs, has dogs or loves dogs intuitively knows the therapeutic value of having one around," said Gabriel. "So we thought, 'What if we introduced that bond to Soldiers who didn't go downrange with a dog but needed a battle buddy when they came home?'"

K9 Soldiers has partnered with Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania to provide canine-training courses to warriors in transition and wounded warriors, in a unique program that combines online academic work and field training. While the training is not yet available, K9 Soldiers hopes to have the program off the ground for the fall 2011 semester, Gabriel said.

Top civilian canine instructors, as well as former military working-dog trainers, have been recruited to provide instruction. Some of the topics the program will cover include canine anatomy and nutrition, emergency care, obethence and search-and-rescue training. …