Red, White, and Four-Legged: How America’s Military Service Dogs Are Becoming the Country’s Biggest Asset

Amy Bushatz for Military.com

TOML is a popular motto in the U.S. military community; it stands for “That Others May Live.” It is commonly used by the pararescuers in the Air National Guard, and it is a defining symbol of the unit’s commitment to bravery and brotherhood. However, it’s also the name for one special member of the Alaska Air National Guard, but he has four legs instead of two.

He doesn’t wear a flight suit or an army battle uniform. Rather, TOML wears a simple red vest and a collar. He’s a one-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever and is working as a service guard for his entire squadron of troops.

About 53 million Americans live with a disability. But considering that the most common disability is associated with limited physical mobility, many people forget that mental illness can also leave a person disabled. This is exceptionally true in the Armed Services, as those who deal with emergencies around the country and those who are deployed overseas can have problems adjusting to the mental tolls of the job at hand.

That’s where TOML comes in. He is working as a mental service dog for the entire Alaska Air National Guard’s 212th Rescue Squadron. He belongs to everyone in the unit, and whenever anyone is having a bad day he is there to help.

TOML is quite the unusual dog. Not only does he have war experience, having been deployed to Afghanistan last year, he is believed to be the first case of any one unit having a specific dog deployed as a mental service aide in the entire Armed Forces.

Veterinary services and a care budget for TOML are provided by the Pentagon using federal funds. In fact, TOML is just one four-legged friend making headlines, as the Pentagon has recently released information on how they are investing more time and money than ever to war dogs and their training as service dogs.

According to Bloomberg, there are about 1,600 Military War Dogs currently deployed in the field or helping recuperating veterans. There’s an increasing demand for these dogs, too; they’re a precious resource to both the Army and the returning vets. Considering their boundless happiness and their need for a healthy outlet to release their pent-up energy, they make for near-perfect companions. They can do anything from accompanying their master on a 20-30 minute walk, sniffing out a bomb, or calming down their master when they experience any symptoms of anxiety or panic.

Because of this high demand, the Pentagon is actually investing their resources into purchasing life-like canine mannequins to better train medics and troops who use them out in the field. These dog dolls weigh 50 pounds, have a pulse, an internal inflating bag that mimics breathing, can bark, whimper and can even bleed. They cost $20,000, and their goal is to desensitize their handlers so they will be more effective in handling them in the event of a real-life emergency.

Considering that these dogs are so important, the U.S. government is doing whatever they can to ensure they not only survive in the field, but that they are able to help their masters attain mental and physical well-being.

It just goes to show that dogs are not only man’s best friend, but America’s best friend as well. Safe to say the nation can likely look forward to seeing more dogs like TOML in the future.

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