HomeNewsArticle Display

No greater friend

Moe, an Air Force service dog, watches retired Master Sgt. Kyle Burnett as she competes in the 2014 Warrior Games archery competition Oct. 1, 2014, at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Thirty-nine athletes contended in the recurve and compound bow categories, all aiming for a spot on the medals podium.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jette Carr)

Moe, an Air Force service dog, watches retired Master Sgt. Kyle Burnett as she competes in the 2014 Warrior Games archery competition Oct. 1, 2014, at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Thirty-nine athletes contended in the recurve and compound bow categories, all aiming for a spot on the medals podium. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jette Carr)

Air Force service dog Kai waits patiently as his owner, Staff Sgt. August O'Neil, provides an on-camera interview Oct. 2, 2014. A few of the athletes on the Air Force team competing in the 2014 Warrior Games have service dogs to help with mobility, as well as companionship. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Torri Ingalsbe)

Air Force service dog Kai waits patiently as his owner, Staff Sgt. August O'Neil, provides an on-camera interview Oct. 2, 2014. A few of the athletes on the Air Force team competing in the 2014 Warrior Games have service dogs to help with mobility, as well as companionship. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Torri Ingalsbe)

Tech Sgt. Leonard Anderson and his service dog, Azza, after returning home to Alaska in 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Zachary Perras)

Tech Sgt. Leonard Anderson and his service dog, Azza, after returning home to Alaska in 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Zachary Perras)

Pintler, an Air Force service dog, waits for retired Tech. Sgt. Keith Sekora to finish competing during the 2014 Warrior Games’ track and field portion of Oct. 2, 2014, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The service dogs are allowed all-access to every event and area, to maintain constant contact with their athletes. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Torri Ingalsbe)

Pintler, an Air Force service dog, waits for retired Tech. Sgt. Keith Sekora to finish competing during the 2014 Warrior Games’ track and field portion of Oct. 2, 2014, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The service dogs are allowed all-access to every event and area, to maintain constant contact with their athletes. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Torri Ingalsbe)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AFNS) -- "We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It's the best deal man has ever made, " - M. Facklam.

For centuries, dogs have not only been the constant companions of humans but they have been utilized in day-to-day activities to assist their owners with tasks at hand. Today, many dogs serve in a capacity to facilitate in the mobility of those with limiting physical factors.

Service dogs can range from being a person's eyes, sensing a seizure or low blood sugar, to sniffing out improvised explosive devices on the battlefield.

For some of the Air Force's wounded warrior athletes, service dogs provide so much more than just physical assistance.

"Mentally I was in a place where I needed a companion," said Staff Sgt. August O'Neil about his service dog, Kai. "If I get really angry or very depressed, he senses it and he comes over and puts his head on my lap or my chest to change my mood, which is extremely helpful."

O'Neil also uses Kai for balancing and to help provide a barrier if people are getting too close, or approaching too quickly.

"He's a part of me just like my crutches are a part of me and, soon, just like my prosthetic will be a part of me," O'Neil said. "He'll pick up my phone, wallet, keys - even though he hates doing that because he's not a retriever - he'll look at me like, what...you can't pick that up yourself?"

O'Neil attributes much of his successful healing to the bond he has with Kai.

"He has definitely helped me have a positive outlook," he said. "At the beginning of this year, I was spinning down a lot, and he's pretty much been the sole reason that's kept me up."

Retired Master Sgt. Kyle Burnett, who also trains service dogs, agrees that the bond between the dog and the owner is the most important part of the relationship.

"The dog has to know you, and you have to have a bond," she said. "After I got hurt in 2009, Moe started to pick up things that I didn't realize he was doing purposely. Anytime we'd be out, he'd always face the opposite direction as me when my back wasn't against a wall, which really helped with hyper-vigilance. I would know he would alert me that someone was behind me."

Burnett's dog, Moe, also helps her find things she's lost, and comforts her during nightmares.

"He would lay on top of me until I would calm down and then he would get off," she said. "It's kind of like swaddling a baby - you have tactile points in your chest. It's a physical calming down."

Burnett's other service dog, Charlie, and Moe are what she calls "obediently disobedient" by stepping in to help her when she isn't able to help herself.

"When I dissociate, (Moe) will come up and start nudging against me," she said. "Charlie kept me from sleepwalking out of my room by sitting in the doorway and just shuffling around until I woke up."

Burnett said the dogs have also made it easier for her to talk to people again, because most people begin a conversation with questions about the dogs.
"They've given me my life back in that way," she said.

Service dogs giving athletes their lives back is a common thread among all of them but one has his service dog to thank for saving his life.

"She was with me when the explosion happened," said Tech. Sgt. Leonard Anderson about Azza, his former military working dog and current service dog. "She was with me through all the combat - through everything - she was around for all of it."

Azza now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the explosion that caused Anderson's injury.

"I like to tell people that I'm more her service dog because she has such severe PTSD issues with large crowds and loud noises," Anderson said. "So, believe it or not, I'm more her crutch."

He wouldn't have it any other way, though, and making sure he was able to keep Azza after his injury was one of his largest requests.

"She understands what I've been through," he said. "I talk to her every day - she doesn't talk back - but just having that provides a huge mental pickup."

As a K-9 handler, Anderson recognizes the need for service dogs in the wounded veteran community.

"The service dogs are huge, especially when it comes to wounded vets," he said. "In the end, it's not just about what they do for you physically - it's your partner - it's your new soul mate in life to carry that disability with you, and to help you get over everything involved with the disability, whether it's mental or physical."

It isn't just the service member who benefits from having a service dog around. Retired Tech. Sgt. Keith Sekora said his dog, Pintler, helps calm everyone in the house.

"It's not just me, he really helps the whole family," he said. "He spreads the love."

Sekora's wife, Andrea, said she trusts Pintler to take care of Sekora in any situation.

"He knows where he is; he watches him," she said. "Whenever he sees him getting a little wobbly or off balance he's right there to catch him and help him back up. I have a lot more confidence in Keith doing things on his own because I know Pintler's there to help him up."

Pintler helps Sekora with balance, as well as picking up objects, turning lights on and coping with PTSD.

"He can sense I'm even being triggered before it happens and he's right there," Sekora said.

The service dogs at the 2014 Warrior Games are present for every event, and constantly near their owners. While they can't be seen on the court or in the pool, the service dogs are as close to the edge as they can get, usually cheering along with everyone else.

Engage

Facebook Twitter
RT @AirNatlGuard: The @150SOW Medical Group assisted with #COVID19 testing at the Wellesley Health Center. While there, Airmen - along with…
Senior Amn Briana Cavassa conducts a medical screening for Airmen returning from deployment @AirAviano. To combat t… https://t.co/Hr99jonJtk
RT @AFmuseum: Already two years on public display! #WWII #memphisbelle https://t.co/sxbbaLeIsa
RT @DeptofDefense: LIVE: @ChiefPentSpox, @DoD_USD_PR & DOD Chief Management Officer Lisa Hershman update Pentagon reporters. https://t.co/E…
RT @DeptofDefense: WATCH LIVE: @ChiefPentSpox Jonathan Rath Hoffman, @DoD_USD_PR Hon. Matthew P. Donovan, & DOD Chief Management Officer Ho…
A F-22 Raptor from @TeamTyndall flies alongside a F-35 Lightning II from the @TeamEglin over the Emerald Coast. The… https://t.co/asgdBrptNN
A C-21A Learjet taxies to the flightline @RamsteinAirBase. @NATO’s Rapid Air Mobility initiative allowed the aircra… https://t.co/uFkj2RUbwy
Thoughts about #MemorialDay from Lt. Col. Jeremy Guenet @129RQW. @AirNatlGuard https://t.co/arwZC9MIow
RT @SecAFOfficial: #MemorialDay is a time to remember those #Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting and guaranteeing ou…
RT @thejointstaff: #GenMilley: This #MemorialDay, we pause to honor the more than 1 million Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice since…
RT @ArlingtonNatl: The 152nd National Memorial Day Observance to honor America’s fallen military service members at Arlington National Ceme…
RT @thejointstaff: #GenMilley: "We have a solemn duty to remember all those who've gone before us & fought & died for the cause of freedom.…
Today, we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country. #MemorialDay https://t.co/AO5mxOx7Gf
Yukari Brown, spouse of 2nd Lt. Mark Brown, at Moody AFB, poses for a photo after a ballet class. Brown uses video… https://t.co/2WkjPszC7J
As our adversaries evolve, we have to be ready to withstand a digital 'sucker punch'. To mitigate this threat, cybe… https://t.co/2gZuHzaEAD
Robert Miller discusses what it means to be a caregiver. @AFW2 https://t.co/1cTLbO7ZV4
Hugo, a military working dog, is going from "paw-trolling" to the couch. Well-earned retirement! @17TRW_GAFB https://t.co/pycRotL4EK
RT @GenDaveGoldfein: This #MemorialDay remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our Nation. Brave Americans who died pr…