AFGHANISTAN - Regardless of the branch of service an individual belongs to, deployments can be challenging for everyone.
When being away from home and the stress of being in a deployed location begins to be too much, there is a furry, four-legged energetic red Labrador retriever traveling around Afghanistan, ready to help service members.
U.S. Army Maj. Eden, 98th Medical Detachment Combat Stress Control combat stress dog, and her handler, Pfc. Alex Fanning, 98th Medical Detachment CSC behavioral health specialist, visit different units and forward operating bases in Afghanistan to not only build morale, but to help service members through their combat stress.
U.S. Army Pfc. Alex Fanning, 98th Medical Detachment Combat Stress Control behavioral health specialist, and Maj. Eden, 98th Medical Detachment CSC combat stress dog, visit service members at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan on Jan. 21, 2014. Fanning and Eden travel around Bagram and other Forward Operating Base's telling deployed service members who they are, what the 98th Medical Detachment CSC does and what they can do for them. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kayla Newman)
“Our job is to travel around Bagram and to other FOBs where the 98th is,” explained Fanning, deployed from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and a native of Hueytown, Ala. “We tell people who we are, what we do and what we can do for them. At the same time we let them play with Eden, which brings people to us instead of me just going to them. “
According to Staff Sgt. Thomas Hewett, 98th Medical Detachment CSC noncommissioned officer in charge of warrior recovery center, Eden provides an “in-road” with clients and helps open the door for combat stress personnel.
“Eden is here to help clients relax when they're engaged and talking about the problems they may be facing,” explained Hewett.
While Eden helps clients relax and open up, she also builds the morale of the service members that she encounters.
“I have talked with generals and colonels that are just so on board with the program and they think it's a wonderful thing,” said Fanning. “They see the difference we make in their soldiers and how happy it makes them; they always want us to come out with Eden and help boost the morale of the soldiers.”
Eden, however, was not always on the path to become a combat stress dog.
“Eden is an AMK-9 dog and she originally was training to become a narcotics dog,” explained Fanning. “She ended up failing out of the program because she was too hyper and loving.”
With Eden's temperament, the American K-9 Detection Services knew she would be perfect for something like helping soldiers with combat stress. Eden will however, return to AMK-9 once the 98th Medical Detachment leaves Bagram.
Fanning and Eden have been a team since December 2013, and have been able to see the impact Eden has on soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines.
“Everywhere we go I can tell she makes people happy,” said Fanning. “I have actually seen people cry tears of joy from seeing Eden and playing with her.”
Fanning explained how he has seen a service member lie down with Eden and just cuddled her and cried.
“I've had people say they are having the worst day they've ever had and then they see Eden and it makes all the difference,” said Fanning.
While Eden is making an impact on deployed service members, she is making an impact on Fanning as well.
“I'll miss her and all the times we spent together. It's been really memorable when we travel together, because it is just me and her flying on helicopters and airplanes,” said Fanning. “I'll miss the little moments when we are flying on a helicopter and she's lying down at my feet, looking up at me as we fly over Afghanistan.”
Although Eden is currently with the Army, she and Fanning work hand in hand with the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Combat Stress Control. The two units conduct walkarounds together informing service members that they can get help with stress through either the Army or Air Force.
So whether a deployed service member is at Bagram or another FOB where the 98th Medical Detachment is located, Eden and her combat control stress team are available and willing to help.
By U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Kayla Newman
Provided through DVIDS
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