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70 Dog Years Later, Storied Combat Stress Therapy Canine Calls It a Career

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Dylan Gentile

During Operation Enduring Freedom, a military hospital in Afghanistan was bearing the brunt of caring for service members wounded in combat. While the staff worked around the clock to save lives, they found comfort in what would become the country’s first and last combat stress therapy dog.

Edan began her military career in 2012 as a military working dog tasked with narcotics detection. Her demeanor and propensity to disregard her duties whenever food was around resulted in her being relieved of her position.

It wasn’t until health care professionals at the hospital discovered her ability to identify patients in acute distress and provide immediate comfort that she was given a new job as a combat stress therapy dog. Edan’s unique skills led her down a distinct career path from other military working dogs.

“There were a lot of traumatic injuries with people getting critically wounded all the time, and a lot of doctors were under extreme stress,” said Lt. Col. Michael Brasher, a pilot assigned to the Air Force Reserve’s 919th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and Edan’s caretaker. “They realized Edan had a special gift because she would go comfort the most stressed people specifically.”

After completing additional training and heading into duty, she became well known across Kandahar Airfield as Afghanistan’s only combat stress therapy dog. Edan made her rounds at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation center and at various workplaces on base. She flew frequently to support service members at Bagram Air Base, Camp Bastion, Camp Dwyer and forward operating bases across the country.

“I met Edan while I was deployed to Bagram, and it felt so nice to pet her ears and talk to her,” said Tech. Sgt. Ashli Nelson, a sensor operator with the 919th’s 2nd Special Operations Squadron. “She was definitely great for morale.”

Edan quickly became a star for the unique service she was providing. She was featured in publications like Time Magazine and The Atlantic. Public affairs offices across multiple branches produced stories about her exploits.

“All my friends I deployed with would show me pictures of her and we’d talk about meeting her,” Nelson said. “She’s kind of a celebrity. I think anyone who was deployed to Bagram around that time knows her.”

In 2017, Edan met Brasher while on duty at an MQ-9 Reaper compound in Afghanistan. Brasher checked her out of the kennels and brought her to the compound, where the operators would play with her and feed her.

“At the 2nd SOS operations center, crewmembers would all lay on the floor with her,” he said. “She was a small brown dog in a sea of flight suits. They would always tell me having Edan around made working so much better and they looked forward to their jobs.”

After two more years of supporting service members around Afghanistan, Edan retired from her active-duty career when Brasher took her home to Florida.

Edan served alongside Brasher at the 2nd SOS for three more years, using her unique skills to identify members felling stressed.

“I’ve witnessed her picking up on stress in people over and over again,” Brasher said. “I was talking to this very outgoing and gregarious member when she started licking his palm, and I knew something was going on.”

Edan has multiple ways of indicating someone’s stress level. When an Airman is experiencing minor stress, Edan will place her head on the person. If the person is experiencing chronic stress, she will lay next to them or at their feet. If a member is going through acute distress, she will lick the palm of their hand.

“She’s most definitely done her job,” Nelson said. “Edan has done at least her full 20 in dog years, and I’ve really appreciated having her and Brasher at the squadron.”

While Edan is putting her military service behind her, in her free time she still volunteers at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Orlando.

“I love her to death and am extremely proud of her,” Brasher said. “She’s brought a lot of joy and love to people over the years.”

Brasher and Edan retired together at a ceremony in January, where they both received certificates of appreciation for their service and congratulatory words from Col. Jason Grandy, 919th SOW commander.

Brasher said Edan will spend her retirement catching sticks, going on walks and swimming.

(Gentile is assigned to the 919th Special Operations Wing’s public affairs office.)