Nonconventional NCO raises moral, helps reduce stress

Tags: HeroStories

[caption id="attachment_3725" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Specialist Carolina Ruiz, a behavioral health specialist with the 85th Combat Stress Clinic, and Sgt. 1st Class Albert, the CSC’s therapy dog, pose for a photo between patients. Specialist Ruiz is one of Sgt. 1st Class Albert’s primary handlers, and often has him in the office while she is seeing patients. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Johnathon Jobson, TF Marne Public Affairs.)"][/caption]U. S. Division-North Public Affairs Office

Sgt. Johnathon Jobson, TF Marne Public Affairs

Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Iraq – Whether personal or work related, everyone deals with stress during deployments. The 85th Combat Stress Clinic’s mission is to help Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines deal with this stress and keep their “mental edge.”

While the 85th CSC provides standard counseling services, they also have some more nonconventional therapy approaches, namely Sgt. 1st Class Albert.

Sergeant First Class Albert is not a normal noncommissioned officer; he walks on four legs and has a wet nose. Sergeant First Class Albert is a 3 year-old golden Labrador retriever, and is the 85th CSC’s therapy dog.

Together with his handlers, primarily Pfc. Carolina Ruiz and Spc. Andre Mailhot, both behavioral health specialists with the 85th CSC, Sgt. 1st Class Albert helps alleviate stress felt by servicemembers within U.S. Division – North.

“He is here for stress therapy,” said Pfc. Ruiz, a Victoria, Texas, native. “He has had a great turnout that I can see. People will come in just to see him, not even making an appointment to see a specialist.”

While Spc. Mailhot, who is a native of Running Springs, Calif., and Pfc. Ruiz are the main people who work with Sgt. 1st Class Albert, they are not the only ones. He goes out on missions with many different members of the 85th Combat Stress Clinic.

As Sgt. 1st Class Albert is in the middle of the second of his back-to-back tours in Iraq, he spends most of his time at the clinic, either roaming around the building soaking up all of the attention he can get or sitting in on therapy sessions with Pfc. Ruiz.

“He often just lies down in the office next to a patient I am working with,” Pfc. Ruiz explained. “The patients will just sit and pet him while they are talking to me.”

Sergeant First Class Albert also goes out on missions around Contingency Operating Base Speicher and to other bases within USD-N. He even has his own ear and eye protection and boots for travel by helicopter.

“We take him with us when we go out to assess units,” said Spc. Mailhot. “Sometimes a unit will request that we bring him to their location, other times we just take him with us anyway. We also regularly take him to the combat support hospital to visit with patients there.

“While we are visiting units, we will tell Sgt. 1st Class Albert to ‘make friends.’ At this command he will roam around the room and visit with everyone. With many people you can visibly see them become more at ease and less stressed.”

Even though Sgt. 1st Class Albert’s primary mission is to help alleviate stress, he is also part of a larger mission. He is part of a study being conducted by Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“The study is being headed by the Occupational Therapy branch at Walter Reed and it focuses on the effectiveness of animal assisted therapy,” explained Staff Sgt. Darius Cox, the noncommissioned officer in charge for the 85th CSC and a Nyack, N.Y., native. “When I was here two years ago they had the first two therapy dogs here, and since then they have continued the research to decide whether or not to continue the program and possibly increase the number of therapy dogs in theate