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Patriotic Article
Military

By Army Sgt. Stephen Scott

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Members of the 310th Expeditionay Sustainment Command interact with Sgt. 1st Class Zack, the military therapy dog on Joint Base Balad. Zack and his handler Sgt. Brian Christman, an occupational therapy assistant with the 98th Medical Combat Stress Control Detachment, paid a visit to the 310th ESC's joint operations center May 10, 2011.
Members of the 310th Expeditionay Sustainment Command interact with Sgt. 1st Class Zack, the military therapy dog on Joint Base Balad. Zack and his handler Sgt. Brian Christman, an occupational therapy assistant with the 98th Medical Combat Stress Control Detachment, paid a visit to the 310th ESC's joint operations center May 10, 2011.
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (May 15, 2011) – Sgt. 1st Class Zack has been in the military for less than two years and already holds the rank of a senior non-commissioned officer. All he had to do to achieve this feat was learn to follow instructions, walk on four legs, and let other service members pet him.

The secret to Zack's success may not be helpful or appropriate for most soldiers who are not a Labrador and Golden Retriever mix, but his presence here on Joint Base Balad, Iraq, is a very important one.

“As far as the effect Zack has on people, there is always a smile on everybody's face,” said Sgt. Brian Christman, an occupational therapy assistant with the 98th Medical Combat Stress Control Detachment, a native of Niceville, Fla., and Zack's handler. “People tell me, ‘that lightened my day' [or] ‘that made my day'.”

Christman and Zack were invited by Staff Sgt. Holly Torsch, the petroleum, oil and lubricants operations non-commissioned officer in charge with the 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command and a Howell, Mich., native, to visit her and other members of the 310th ESC at the Joint Operations Center here last Tuesday. There was no shortage of testimony to support Christman's assertion.

“Zack made my day,” said Spc. Mariano Berberena, a total ammunition management information system administrator with the 310th ESC and a Beech Grove,
Ind., native. “He took all of the problems from here and made them go away for that moment.”
“It was great to have Zack here and interact with the soldiers of the 310th ESC,” said Pfc. Graham Hill, an ammunition inspector of operations with the 310th ESC and an Indianapolis, Ind., native. “He helped us relieve some stress and tension, and improved everyone's day.”

Service members shouldn't let those big puppy eyes fool them, however. When he lies on his back with his head slightly tilted, his carefree demeanor brings smiles to many faces, but it also helps bring those smiling faces closer to the occupational therapy team and their combat stress control program.

“Usually the prevention part of the mission in behavioral health belongs to the occupational therapy team,” Christman said. “[Zack's] a big part of the prevention team.”

The occupational therapy team provides services such as combat stress and marriage classes, anger and stress management, tobacco cessation, and warrior resiliency training. Zack's role on the team as a military therapy dog is really to help increase the awareness of these services.

“Basically what we do is provide soldiers with the tools through classes or prevention to help them get through their deployment and deal with the things that they deal with here,” Christman said. “With [Zack], people actually approach us instead of us having to approach people all the time about behavioral health and mental health.”

“I think that's wonderful. I think a lot of people need that being over here,” Torsch said. “We have a lot of people who are first-time deployed, so they're missing newborns, they're missing births, they're missing their family, and just the regular routine that they have.”

Those soldiers on their first deployment were not the only ones who benefited from Zack's visit.

“This is my third mobilization and it is harder to be away from my family,” said Maj. Carlos Esparra, the mobility land chief with the 310th ESC and an Indianapolis, Ind., native. “ For a few minutes, it was just me and [Zack] and nothing in this environment seemed to matter.

Torsch said she approached Christman and Zack about visiting the 310th ESC one day when she saw them walking home. Christman said that type of thing happens to him all the time, but he thinks it's great. He just wants to let as many people as possible know that him, Zack and their whole team are there to help anyone in need.

“I just want to be able to get in touch with all the units in all the areas I cover and let them know that we're here not only so they can have some doggie time, but so we can put out the real reason we're here,” Christman said. “We're here to help soldiers. We're here to give them the tools that they need to make this deployment successful.”

If nothing else, though, Christman doesn't deter people from stopping by the clinic to see Zack when they're feeling down. Zack is probably the only senior NCO any service member will meet whose main job is making them smile.

Article and photo by Army Sgt. Stephen Scott
29th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Copyright 2011

Provided through DVIDS

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