HomeNewsArticle Display

McConnell officer training dog to help wounded warriors

Capt. Carmella Burruss, the 22nd Operations Support Squadron deputy chief of wing intelligence, poses for a photo with Valco on May 25, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Valco is a Labrador-poodle mix who has been training with Burruss to get his certification from Therapy Dog International so he can work in Veterans Affairs hospitals. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jenna K. Caldwell)

Capt. Carmella Burruss, the 22nd Operations Support Squadron deputy chief of wing intelligence, poses for a photo with Valco on May 25, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Valco is a Labrador-poodle mix who has been training with Burruss to get his certification from Therapy Dog International so he can work in Veterans Affairs hospitals. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jenna K. Caldwell)

Valco, a therapy dog in training, shakes hands with his handler, Capt. Carmella Burruss, the 22nd Operations Support Squadron deputy chief of wing intelligence, May 25, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Valco has been taking obedience classes to earn his certification from Therapy Dog International so he can work in Veteran Affairs hospitals. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jenna K. Caldwell)

Valco, a therapy dog in training, shakes hands with his handler, Capt. Carmella Burruss, the 22nd Operations Support Squadron deputy chief of wing intelligence, May 25, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Valco has been taking obedience classes to earn his certification from Therapy Dog International so he can work in Veteran Affairs hospitals. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jenna K. Caldwell)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

A 22nd Operations Support Squadron officer at McConnell Air Force Base is training her dog, Valco, to help boost the morale of military members, veterans and their families.

Capt. Carmella Burruss, the 22nd OSS deputy chief of wing intelligence, has been training Valco, a 19-month-old Labrador-poodle mix, for six months to become a certified therapy dog.

Valco has already completed a basic obedience course, and is now working on his advanced obedience course. He’s on track to earn his official accreditation through Therapy Dog International.

The upbringing of Valco has been a family affair. Burruss' father, a former Army special operations forces deputy commander, raised Valco for about a year while Carmella was deployed.

Valco is named after a special operations K-9 and is carrying on that legacy of service. The original Valco was killed in combat in Iraq in 2005 while assigned to a unit that Burruss' father helped found in the 1970s.

"I think Cara's decision to train him and use him as a therapy dog is a wonderful tribute to his namesake," said retired Lt. Col. Lewis Burruss. "SOF working dogs, such as Valco's namesake, have been responsible for saving scores of lives. By naming other dogs after these K-9 heroes, we pay tribute to those K-9s killed in the line of duty."

Carmella is following in her father's military service footsteps and her dog Valco will likely do the same by helping military members. Once certified, the goal is for Valco to work in Veterans Affairs hospitals and base medical facilities, helping people with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"People who are struggling with emotional problems can benefit a lot from having a therapy animal come visit them," Carmella said. "A therapy dog helps improve healing. Being around animals helps lower your blood pressure, reduces stress and anxiety and brings everybody's moods up."

Carmella stepped up to serve her country after 9/11 because she felt her nation needed her. That self-sacrifice as a leader and wingman is the same reason she continues to serve her country and help veterans in need, her father said.

"That concept of service -- it's an extension of the reason I wanted to join the military," Carmella said. "While we are here working the current Air Force mission, we can give back to those that have given so much. If we can make one person smile, it's worth it."

Communication is important to the success of any military mission and it's just as important with a dog and handler partnership.

"It's a relationship and a conversation -- he needs to trust me when I give him a command," she said. "It's a team mentality. He looks to me sometimes for confidence, and I look to him to just be the big sweetheart that he is."

This trust is very important, especially because a portion of Valco's training involves learning how to deal with unfamiliar situations. Having confidence in his handler allows him to be graceful around people on crutches, be able to handle the noise of someone dropping a walker and being able to properly approach wheelchair-bound individuals.

Carmella has big plans for Valco's future. She hopes to eventually certify Valco as a search and rescue dog to help in disaster zones, and for him to spend time in nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities and working with young children.

"He can also be a reading therapy dog for children who have trouble reading," Carmella said. "(Children) can sit down and read to the dog and it boosts their confidence because they can connect with the animal and it's not another person making them nervous."

Carmella hopes the team will continue to help as many people as they can while spreading the word about the importance of therapy dogs and how they can boost morale within the veteran community.

"There's no way I'm not smiling when I walk around with him and see other people smile, it's infectious," she said. "Being able to just look over at him, and he'll just wag his goofy tail you think, 'none of this is really that bad, because I get to love this dog right now.'"

Engage

Twitter
10 years have passed since #DontAskDontTell was repealed. @UnderSecAF Gina Ortiz Jones celebrated the milestone by… https://t.co/i1kTNvykzM
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: It’s going to take all of our Airmen, Active-duty, Reserve and Guard to secure this nation’s future. https://t.co/4P3CUiQ…
Twitter
RT @UnderSecAF: A few years ago, only two small businesses joined us at AFA--this year we have 40+. @AFWERX works with these companies ever…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: SecAF is meeting with defense industry leaders today during the @AirForceAssoc’s #ASC21 events. In his #OneTeamOneFigh
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Our rate of change needs to increase. We must move with a sense of urgency today in order to rise to the challenges of to…
Twitter
.@AETCommand is working to remove barriers in the pilot candidate selection process. Learn more about the changes… https://t.co/ANcqVRdsNz
Twitter
.@UnderSecAF Gina Ortiz Jones spoke on the anniversary of DADT... https://t.co/zZYqHOTp8V
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: "We are in a national, strategic, long-term contest with a formidable adversary and what you do every day is important t…
Twitter
"We must move with a sense of urgency today in order to rise to the challenges of tomorrow. Because the return to s… https://t.co/yeYvmOaOos
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Our collaboration with industry is integral to ensuring we are able to compete, deter and win tomorrow against peer adver…
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Impossible ends with you. https://t.co/e6ebHtvBDg
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: SecAF Kendall addressed the @AirForceAssoc's Air, Space & Cyber Conference earlier today: "I intend to be relentless in…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: SecAF Kendall just finished addressing the @AirForceAssoc's Air, Space & Cyber Conference. The topics he spoke on includ…
Twitter
RT @UnderSecAF: Happy #DontAskDontTell Repeal Day! Honored to commemorate the repeal’s 10th anniversary with some of our LGBTQ Airmen & Gua…
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,376,954
Follow Us