Colorado

Aug 5, 2010 7:11 PM by Matt Stafford

Air Force pup slow to recover from Iraq deployment

The stresses of war come home with many in the military, making the transition home difficult, but is the same true for the K-9 companions on the battlefield?

The handlers of one dog that has been back home, recovering from deployment at Peterson Air Force Base, say the dog suffers from symptoms similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. They've done a lot of work to help the four-year old German shepherd named Gina adjust.

"She likes to play now, a lot more than she did when she first got back from the deployment," says Master Sergeant Eric Haynes, who's been working with Gina since she returned from Iraq in May 2009.

As a patrol and explosives sniffing dog in Iraq, Gina saw plenty of combat; flash bangs, gun fights and things much louder.

"One of the vehicles in her convoy was hit by an I.E.D," explains Master Sergeant Haynes.

After returning home, Gina had her own set of adjustment issues. She was avoiding people and terrified of vehicles.

"Any traumatic experience affects somebody one way or the other," says Master Sergeant Haynes.

So is the dog suffering from P.T.S.D.? Gina's handlers aren't veterinarians and can't say for sure, but they've seen enough to toss the idea around.

"I've seen some symptoms." says Staff Sergeant Melinda Miller, Gina's new handler as of a few months ago. She adds that she isn't an expert but she sees similarities.

There was definitely something wrong, but they didn't just move on to the next dog.

"It's your partner," Staff Sergeant Miller says. "You don't want to give up on your partner."

It's taken about a year, but they're finally seeing steady signs of improvement.

"Seeing other people, she was getting petted by other people; everybody wasn't out to get her," explains Master Sergeant Haynes.

"She's coming around even more. She stands at the gate alert, focused, not scared of cars pulling up or anything." says Staff Sergeant Miller.

They're happy to see the improvement, dogs like Gina are important to the mission.

"That dog will go out there and it will give its life for you and it won't even think twice about it," says Master Sergeant Haynes. "The most we can do is help them be mentally stable and healthy."

Based on her easy-going attitude with those around, it seems the hard work is paying off for Gina.

Gina may actually go on another deployment. It may not be for a couple of years though; they want to make sure she's ready to go. In the mean-time Gina can work jobs on base or other domestic assignments.

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