Airman gets by with a little help from his friend

  • Published
  • By Brian Brackens
  • 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Arriving home after deploying to a war zone can bring new challenges to military members. Many discover that their fight is not over and they end up facing an unseen enemy, with sometimes serious consequences. That enemy is post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to Veterans Affairs officials, PTSD is an anxiety disorder that may affect individuals who have experienced extremely stressful and traumatic events. Such events may include witnessing the loss of human life, as well as being a victim of a violent attack.

Master Sgt. Justin Jordan, the Air Force Support Integration superintendent with the Air Force Inspection Agency here, lives with PTSD.
Sergeant Jordan, a 17-year Air Force veteran, has served numerous overseas deployments and assignments with mortuary affairs.

"Constantly dealing with death, dismay and putting Soldiers in the ground at record pace is what led me to having PTSD," Sergeant Jordan said. "Your brain is just not equipped to take that all the time."

Those closest to Sergeant Johnson couldn't tell he was dealing with PTSD because the signs are not always obvious.

"People who worked around me had no idea that I had these issues," he said. "I could be totally freaking out and holding a conversation with them at the same time."

Some of his symptoms include zoning out for hours at a time, flashbacks to stressful events, fear of crowds, avoidance and constant worry.

"There were times when I would drive 20 (MPH) down the highway because I was positively certain that a tire would pop."

His family was affected by his condition as well.

"My children suffered, for there were times when I didn't let them go outside to play because I was so worried that something was going to happen," Sergeant Jordan said.

All of these things led his friends and family to tell him something was wrong and he needed help. While attending an event on base with his daughter, Sergeant Jordan met Jim and Lindsey Stanek, founders of a nonprofit organization called "Paws and Stripes."
The sole purpose of the organization is to train and provide service dogs at no cost for veterans dealing with PTSD and other mental and cognitive disabilities.
Sergeant Jordan said talking with the Stanek's gave him hope that this could be exactly what he needed, and after extensive research and consulting with his doctor he decided to enroll in the program.

Paws and Stripes trains dogs to be constant companions of their owners, so wherever the owner goes, the dog goes. Because they are service dogs, in the same category as seeing eye dogs for the blind, by law, business establishments and airlines must admit them.

While Paws and Stripes provides veterans with service dogs, Sergeant Jordan elected to have the organization train a dog he already had, a 2-year-old English Bulldog named "Dallas" after his favorite football team.

Having a canine companion in the workplace is an important part of the therapy that the dogs provide. Leaving the dog at home would be the equivalent of not taking daily medication. For this reason, Sergeant Jordan sought and received approval from his chain of command to bring Dallas to work.

"I got a lot of support all the way from chiefs to colonels, who told me that they knew exactly what I was going through," Sergeant Jordan said.

Sergeant Jordan said taking Dallas to work every day can be very rewarding, because she mitigates the effects of PTSD. She has an area right next to his desk and to keep him from zoning out, she is trained to tug on his sleeve several times an hour as well as pace back and forth in order catch his attention.

In the same way that dogs are trained to detect seizures before they occur, "Dallas is being trained to detect if I'm about to have an issue and if so, she'll do something to distract me," Sergeant Jordan said.

Dallas is also trained to literally watch Sergeant Jordan's back. When his back is turned to a door, she is trained to face the door so if anyone comes in, she will be able to alert him. Also, if he is in a line, Dallas will position herself behind him in order to give him space and prevent others from getting too close. All of this is done in a non-aggressive matter. She does not bark, bite or threaten people in any way.

Having a dog at work can create challenges because Dallas is on a leash with Sergeant Jordan at all times. If someone in the office needs help lifting or moving something, Sergeant Jordan will tie Dallas' leash to his belt and help out.

"One of the things about being active duty is that I can't be treated 'special' and I don't want to be treated 'special,'" Sergeant Jordan said. "I have a dog and she helps me, just like someone with a wheelchair. I don't want anyone saying that because I have a dog I can't do something. Whatever it is that I have to do, me and Dallas will make it happen."

Other challenges that Sergeant Jordan faces include getting odd stares and sometimes getting stopped by people wanting to know why he has a dog in the building. These challenges are turned into opportunities to talk about PTSD and organizations like Paws and Stripes that help veterans assimilate into society.

"I've suffered a lot of guilt," Sergeant Jordan said. "But I'm old enough now to know if you need help, get it. Dallas provides that help. She's got my six every day."