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Canine Companion Keeps Soldiers’ Spirits High

By Pfc. April Campbell, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP TAJI, Iraq, Feb. 21, 2008 – Hearing a noise in the hallway, Dean gets out of his bed on the floor and trots to the door as he searches the cool February air for a clue.

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Army Command Sgt. Maj. Vaneta Vaughn, the top enlisted soldier with 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Multinational Division Baghdad, scratches Dean, the battalion chaplain’s dog, behind his ear at Camp Taji, Iraq, Feb. 16, 2008. Dean deployed to Iraq with the soldiers as the battalion’s therapy dog. Photo by Pfc. April Campbell, USA
  

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Once he confirms the presence of friendly forces, he cocks his long face around to see if his companion wants to go visit the soldiers in the hallway as much as he does. With all four limbs on the ground, Dean will certainly need the chaplain’s help to open the door.

Dean is a 3-year-old black Labrador retriever mix and serves as a therapy dog during his deployment to Multinational Division Baghdad here with the 4th Infantry Division’s 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

Army Capt. Phillip Rittermeyer, the battalion chaplain, adopted Dean from a shelter one month prior to the unit’s deployment. Rittermeyer, who works with and cares for the dog, brought Dean with him to Iraq on official orders to provide comfort and boost the morale of the “Mountaineer” soldiers during their day-to-day activities as they operate in the northern outreaches of Baghdad province.

“I worked with a dog previously in civilian ministry,” Rittermeyer said. “They help comfort people as well as lower stress and blood pressure.”

Army Capt. Christi Moreno, who serves as the 3rd BCT mental health officer, also sees the benefit animals like Dean provide to soldiers in a high-stress environment.

“Animals are very therapeutic,” she said. “They show unconditional love, and they’re not judgmental.”

When Rittermeyer must attend a meeting or preside over church services, other Mountaineer soldiers, such as Army Sgt. Tasha Jackson, a supply sergeant with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 64th BSB, spend time taking care of and getting to know Dean. Caring for “man’s best friend” is nothing new to this dog lover.

“Dean reminds me of my very first dog, Raider, who I had from the time I was in second grade until a few years after high school,” Jackson said.

The loving canine helps her overcome some of the difficult times during her deployment. “If I’m having a down day and the chaplain brings Dean over for me to watch,” she said, “it usually helps to cheer me up.”

Between teaching the playful four-legged creature how to dance and trying not to let the dog walk her when he needs to be taken out, she added, Dean provides her with comfort that reminds her of home.

Dean stays connected with the soldiers by communicating his own needs or wants, as well. “If I’m working, he’ll put his head on my lap so I’ll pay attention to him,” Jackson said.

Moreno said she’s not surprised at the effect Dean has on the soldiers. “(Animals) bring the best out of people,” she explained. “People tend to have an inherent connection with them.”

As their deployment continues, Dean will continue his support operations with the Mountaineer soldiers, often bringing smiles and an eager hand to pet his black-and-white fur wherever he goes.

(Army Pfc. April Campbell serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)

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Multinational Corps Iraq

Click photo for screen-resolution imageDean, the battalion therapy dog, leans in for a good petting Feb. 16, 2008, from Army Capt. Phillip Rittermeyer, a chaplain with 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Multinational Division Baghdad, at Camp Taji, Iraq. Rittermeyer adopted Dean, who is 3 years old, from a shelter shortly before the brigade deployed to Iraq. Photo by Pfc. April Campbell, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDean, the 64th Brigade Support Battalion therapy dog, is suited up Feb. 16, 2008, in his improved body armor system by his caretaker, Army Capt. Phillip Rittermeyer, a chaplain with 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Multinational Division Baghdad, at Camp Taji, Iraq. Photo by Pfc. April Campbell, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDean, a therapy dog, stands on his hind legs to reach a treat offered to him by Army Staff Sgt. Robert Hankins, a unit supply sergeant with Company A, 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Multinational Division Baghdad, at Camp Taji, Iraq, Feb. 16, 2008. Dean is deployed to Iraq with the Mountaineer Battalion to help boost troop morale. Photo by Pfc. April Campbell, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageExcited about receiving a treat, Dean, a Labrador retriever mix who is deployed with troops in 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Multinational Division Baghdad, sticks his tongue out in anticipation Feb. 16, 2008, at Camp Taji, Iraq. Dean is on a mission as the battalion chaplain’s therapy dog to help boost the morale of soldiers during their day-to-day activities. Photo by Pfc. April Campbell, USA  
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