News>Man's best friend not immune to stigmas of war; overcomes PTSD
Gina runs through the obstacle course at the dog kennel July 21, 2010, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Gina served her first tour in Southwest Asia this year and returned with post traumatic stress disorder. Gina is a 21st Security Forces Squadron military working dog. (U.S. Air Force photo/Monica Mendoza)
Master Sgt. Eric Haynes praises Gina, a four-year-old German shepherd, during her off-duty play time July 21, 2010, at the Peterson Air Force Base dog kennel in Colo. Sergeant Haynes spent the past six months working daily with Gina, who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder after her tour in the Southwest Asia. Sergeant Haynes is the 21st Security Forces Squadron NCO in charge of the military working dog section. (U.S. Air Force photo/Monica Mendoza)
Four-year-old Gina plays during her off-duty hours July 21, 2010, at the dog kennel at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Gina served her first tour in Southwest Asia earlier this year and suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. Gina is a 21st Security Forces Squadron military working dog. (U.S. Air Force photo/Monica Mendoza)
Master Sgt. Eric Haynes plays ball with Gina, a four-year-old German shepherd, during her off-duty time at the dog kennel July 21, 2010, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Sergeant Haynes spent the past six months working daily with Gina, who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder after her tour in Southwest Asia. Sergeant Haynes is the 21st Security Forces Squadron NCO in charge of the military working dog section. (U.S. Air Force photo/Monica Mendoza)
by Monica Mendoza
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
7/27/2010 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFNS) -- When four-year-old Gina, a 21st Security Forces Squadron military working dog, returned from her five-month tour in Southwest Asia, she wasn't the same.
She was anti-social. Every sound, even the radio, bothered her. She was jumpy. And, she showed no interest in her work, which was to detect drugs and bombs.
Before she deployed, Gina had been a MWD for two years. She had trained at the Department of Defense Military Working Dog School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and was assigned to Peterson AFB, Colo. Other than the gun-fire training with her handler, Gina had never been exposed to the loud booms of improvised explosive devices.
While deployed, Gina was riding with her handler when an IED went off in the vehicle behind hers. It spooked her. The constant patrols, flash bangs, the sounds of kicking in doors and the IED booms got to her.
"When Gina came back from (SWA) she was so messed up, she didn't want to see anybody," said Master Sgt. Eric Haynes, the 21st SFS NCO in charge of the MWD section. "She wouldn't walk through front doors, she didn't want to go inside buildings. She was terrified of everything."
Post traumatic stress disorder is defined by severe anxiety that develops after exposure to a psychological trauma, and the event could have involved a threat of death. A classic sign of PTSD is avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma. Gina was suffering from PTSD.
MWDs are valuable partners for warrior Airmen, with thousands of them assigned to military installations and government agencies around the world. This month the Department of Homeland Security announced it would recruit about 600 dogs a year over the next five years to join the elite squadron of working dogs that sniff out bombs and drugs and help hunt for terrorists.
Peterson AFB is home to the second largest group of MWDs in the continental United States, with 15 slots. MWDs typically work 10 years, Sergeant Haynes said. He wasn't about to give up on Gina, a highly trained German shepherd and valuable member of the squadron.
"I won't say that I thought she couldn't be rehabilitated," he said. "But, I knew it wouldn't be easy."
And, so began a long, arduous rehabilitation program that included daily walks through the base exchange and commissary. At first, when a person approached Gina, she tucked her tail in and cowered to the ground. Sergeant Haynes sent a person ahead of him to pass out treats to store clients, who would then give Gina a treat when they approached her.
"She started having confidence," Sergeant Haynes said. "That is where we started."
Every day, the pair would walk around the base and into buildings so that Gina could get re-acquainted with the sounds of cars and people. Each week they got a little closer to training areas, where security forces Airmen shot blanks to practice. At the sound of the shots, Gina tried to run.
"The improvement came over time," Sergeant Haynes said. "She was quite broken. You don't want to see anyone suffering like that - people or dogs."
As their rapport built up, Sergeant Haynes moved into a corrective mode with Gina. He would give her commands before someone walked through the door - before she had a chance to get scared. Leading behavioral and cognitive therapists say treatment of PTSD involves changing patterns of thinking. That's what Sergeant Haynes was doing.
"I'm correcting the behavior at the very beginning of the problem rather than waiting for her to get scared," Sergeant Haynes said. "I can nip it in the bud before it begins, which makes her mind go to another place."
Gina has made real progress, Sergeant Haynes said. She's happy, social and she plays. She enjoys her work and she is no longer terrified to be around people or noise. Two months ago, Gina was assigned to partner with Staff Sgt. Melinda Miller, a 21st SFS dog handler. And, on July 1, Gina was re-certified to continue working as a MWD. She will work patrol, participate in base exercises and continue her detection work.
Gina will continue her rehabilitation regarding gun fire and loud booms. And she probably won't deploy to a frontline base in Southwest Asia for at least two years, Sergeant Haynes said.
"You don't want to rush it," Sergeant Haynes said. "If we take it too far, too fast, we'll be all the way back to square one."
8/26/2010 1:49:30 AM ET Well with this much awareness to the MWD with PTSD maybe our servicemen and women won't feel the stimga attached to the condition and seek they help they deserve and need. Animals including horses have been healing childrens and adults for years. look at all the therapeutic riding schools. If you do your home work and read some of the therapies that are going on with PTSD. Dogs are actually helping the service people who who back from Iraq. Maybe they can both help each other to heal. Dogs are not man's best friend for nothing
8/19/2010 12:29:59 PM ET Great to know the military not only cares about the mental health of MWD - that they are willing to work with the animals to help them return to full duty. This is win-win for all involved as it shows that mental and emotional traumas can be overcome with care and concern. This is not just about one dog.
Beth, Dover AFB
8/18/2010 6:52:15 PM ET First, it's a dog; not a THIRD CHILD, but a dog...a remarkable one, but a dog none the less. She performed her duty honorably. She cannot perform it to the full extent, so let her play in peace. Training her from the beginning would definitely have helped the situation but one never knows what combat can do. ALTHOUGH THERE ARE A LOT MORE AIRMEN OTHER THAN SECURITY FORCES WHO SEE WAY MORE COMBAT.
8/17/2010 1:26:37 PM ET Biff - Firstly animals get scared, happy, show loyalty and emotions. Next 11-Bs have little to nothing in common with Security Forces. The CORRECT Army equivalent to security forces would be Military Police or MPs - seems obvious, right?
OC, Omaha NE
8/17/2010 12:53:36 PM ET After reading the comments that people left concerning Gina, it is surprising that the first thing poeple say is must be nice to have two years off on SWA deployments. I have never been a part of the K9 or the police, but what I can say is that I believe that dogs can experience abuse and revert to a very anti-social animal. Just look in the news - there is your abuse for dogs. I think it is wrong of people to assume that PTSD could not happen to a dog. Talk to a Vietnam Vet about dogs and what their service meant to them. Most of us are not animal behaviorists, so who are we to judge. Anyway, hope Gina makes a full recovery and let us not judge. Thanks.
Joe C, Andrews
8/17/2010 3:35:47 AM ET Don't get me wrong, I love dogs, I've had several throughout my life. But PTSD? Come on man, you gotta be kidding me. This smells like somebody needed an EPR bullet. Its a dog people, not a human being. They even have National Stock Numbers for them. I appreciate the work our MWDs and their handlers do. I can accept retraining a dog who has problems, even though they should have prepared these dogs for this during initial training. But what I can't appreciate or accept is the way this story was written and some of the comments made about it. Like the one comment by the person who says they have a child on the way and they keep on their dogs that they have a baby brother coming and that their son will be their 3rd child. Also, why is it that a dog can get two years off from deploying when diagnosed with PTSD? If an Airman gets PTSD, they don't get the same luxury. Had Gina been an Airman, she would have been retired.
Austin, Holloman AFB
8/12/2010 1:50:17 PM ET This is a great story and shows how much dogs mean to people and they are not JUST dogs. To those of you who say that they AF should have retired her because of the fact that she's a dog - you must not have any pets or not care for your pets like most people. I have 2 dogs and they ARE my fur-kids. I have a child on the way and I keep on telling my dogs that they have a baby brother coming. My son will be my 3rd child.The military DOES care for its people and helps them in EVERY way possible. They don't just show them the door when they have PTSD or any other problem.
8/11/2010 11:39:01 AM ET Annette Agreed. How are they not exposed to loud noises in training like those of an IED that they will be exposed to in the AO? Also it's nice to see that this dog gets 2 years off from deployments. Sounds like a waste of gov't money and a waste of an E7's time. A more logical idea would be to retire Gina and take on a new MWD. Who's to say that Gina won't have a reoccurring problem with canine PTSD. Dogs are expendable like that...because they are DOGS.
8/11/2010 9:32:08 AM ET What a wonderful story to read this morning. Kudos to all dog handlers especially Sgt Haynes. I have a love for dogs and believe in the intelligence they possess. German Sheppards and Labs are my favorite. I know the environment in a war zone is hard for humans but never thought about the impact it has on animals. This reading was an eye opener. I hope Gina continues to progress. Again I pray for all who serve our country...every human being and animal. Have a wonderful Air Force Day.
MSgt Ret LaShunda V Lewis, Maxwell AFB AL
8/10/2010 11:13:38 AM ET Just a thought why don't we expose them to loud explosions other than just gunfire prior to deploying them? A lot of dogs are afraid of loud noises; if they get used to it prior to going that would be better than retraining them when they get back. Way go to GINA.
8/4/2010 1:27:09 PM ET This is a prime example of how animals get better teatment than humans. If a real airman returns home from SWA with PTSD they are pretty much shown the door. But a dog gets special treatment--No deployments for atleast two years and no real work while in treatment. Give me a break. No wonder the Air Force has a horrible reputation. Treat the dog like a dog.
7/30/2010 3:39:58 PM ET My congratulations to MSgt Haynes in rebuilding trust and confidence in a valued team member like Gina. As an animal advocate I appreciate the recognition that dogs are not little machines but individuals with feelings.
7/29/2010 5:53:25 PM ET As an Air Force civilian employee who is deploying in the fall and as a dog owner, I can truthfully say that Biff is way off base and showing his ignorance. Dogs, like many animals, expect very little from humans yet display amazing love and loyalty. To dismiss this story as Biff did illustrates callous disregard for animals and their contributions to our fighting forces. Given the choice between the two, I'd rather have Gina at my side than Biff when I deploy. Thanks for a terrific story.
Mark N., Denver CO
7/29/2010 3:33:04 PM ET First off all that's amazing that Gina overcame her fear and instability. That shows the trainer and Gina were both dedicated to their mission. Now Biff you have no heart to think that dogs don't show human emotion, it obviously occured in this event. Even more, a dog knows when you are sad and when you are happy. Dogs just like Airmen can have PTSD. Also the article wasn't straight at the SF folks, it was about the dogs that get little or no attention with news like this. This is a success story.
Heather, Dyess AFB
7/29/2010 12:33:56 PM ET You know I read this article and wondered how anyone could try and bring negativity towards it because it seemed like a feel good story. Congrats Biff...always one in every crowd, but you won't ruin it for me.
7/29/2010 10:54:41 AM ET Interesting comment, Biff. Just goes to show how animals are better than humans sometimes. They may not be as smart as us in some ways, but they show more humanity than most of us ever do. That's why they are referred to as 'man's best friend,' because they show affection and loyalty to those that treat them with love and respect. Again, ironic how we cannot do the same towards each other.
7/28/2010 4:02:14 PM ET Biff how can you believe something like that after reading this article? What do you consider human feelings? Are fear and sadness two emotions Gina clearly displays not human Unfortunately I doubt I'll be able to do anything to convince you. If the astounding evidence for my case presented both in this article and in the world around us wasn't enough to alter your viewpoint, nothing will.
Aaron Steigerwalt, Altus AFB OK
7/28/2010 3:36:27 PM ET Biff, have you ever worked around a dog? I am guessing no because you are completely wrong. Don't talk about stuff you don't know about. Some of these dogs have seen more combat than most Airmen. That is fact. These dogs are run in and out of deployments with little to no down time. They save lives...period.
7/28/2010 1:20:22 PM ET This story reminds me of a 'Dog Whisperer' episode on Nat Geo channel. It also featured a MWD handler and her dog that returned with severe PTSD to loud sounds etc. It took several months of intense rehabilitating, but they eventually succeeded in returning the dog to a normal life. Ironic how we go through great lengths for man's best friend, but are still struggling to do the same for humans.
7/28/2010 10:57:01 AM ET Wow, another story about security forces I never would have guessed. These guys and gals are the true warriors in the AF just like 11Bs. Btw I don't think dogs have human feelings, they're dogs.
7/28/2010 10:20:11 AM ET It's great we have folks in our Military with such compasionate hearts. Thank you.
Paul Kent, fairfield CA
7/28/2010 8:19:38 AM ET Wow, what a testiment to taking care of our own. Nice Job MSgt Hayes Way to go GINA
Clougher, Langley AFB VA
7/28/2010 2:54:30 AM ET Thank you for your service, Gina, take care and speedy recovery.
7/27/2010 3:21:17 PM ET Kudos to MSgt Haynes It is awesome that he put the time and effort into rehabing her. MWDs have feelings just as we Airmen do. Hope she makes a full recovery Way to Gina
Boonec, Eielson AFB AK
7/27/2010 2:57:12 PM ET That's a sweet story. I'm glad that Gina is alright and is overcoming her PTSD.
Katt, Ft. Bragg.
7/27/2010 2:47:58 PM ET Cudos to Sgt. Haynes....He has shown the compassion and dedication of a true friend and partner and Gina is his partner. Dogs are just like humans when it comes to emotions and concerns for their surroundings. They both deserve this recognition and the thanks of all Americans. Thank you Sgt. Haynes and thank you Gina for a mission well done.