Inside the Gates: PTSD service dog guards the Guardian Angels
Every job has its stresses, but for the Pararescuemen of the Alaska Air National Guard 212th Rescue Squadron, their job is life and death. They have a special tool they use to cope with the worst days: a PTSD service dog.
The dog, a chocolate lab, is named TOML. The acronym stands for “That Others May Live.” It’s the creed of the rescue community.
TOML joined the 212th a year and a half ago as part of the human bond program.
“It’s a pilot program. Nowhere else in our community of Pararescue or Guardian Angel is there a service dog attached,” said Lt. Dan C Warren, a combat rescue officer.
The 212th flies search and rescue missions all around the state.
“In the course of those missions you see some pretty intense things and TOML can help along some of the healing process of that,” said Warren.
Midnight Sun Service Dogs trained TOML. The family of a service member who committed suicide donated a litter of puppies to the organization so they could be trained to recognize and heal PTSD in others.
Earlier this year, members of the 212th deployed to Afghanistan and TOML went with them.
“Folks from all over the base would come and visit us and they wouldn’t really want to talk to us. They’d just want to hang out with TOML,” said Warren.
212th commander Lt. Col. Matthew Komatsu said whether it’s overseas or in the locker room, TOML’s impact is easy to see.
“It’s hard to quantify but there’s something that happens when there are dogs around people,” said Komatsu.
As he walks the halls, TOML is focusing on his mission so the guys can focus on theirs.
“If there’s a guy that has a stressful mission, we’ll throw out the offer of TOML on him and then, if they decline, maybe we’ll just bring TOML around them and see how they’re doing,” said Warren.
“As soon as we have somebody raise their hand and say hey, I could use TOML, it’s no questions asked. Here’s his leash, here’s his food, you’ve got him for as long as you need him,” said Komatsu.
If TOML picks up on someone having a hard time, he “alerts” to it by leaning against them and attempting to comfort them. It can be a heavy burden and sometimes even TOML needs a little alone time, but the Pararescuemen know his favorite place to be is with his unit.
“Whether it’s out in Eagle River doing swift water training, flying on a helicopter for a training mission or just sleeping right next to me on a C-17 on the way to Afghanistan, he just wants to be next to us,” said Warren.
TOML has been so successful with the 212th, two other units at Patrick and Eglin Air Force Bases will also be getting service dogs.
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