TOPEKA, Kan. -- Dogs have a reputation for being man's best friend. For Sgt. Allen Hill, a yellow Labrador retriever is also the best medicine.
Hill, 41, is a soldier in the Kansas National Guard recovering from the effects of a bomb blast he endured while deployed to Iraq in 2007 with the 731st Transportation Company. The blast left the Ottawa resident with a traumatic brain injury, and he now suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.
The deployment with the transportation unit was Hill's second. He deployed with his normal unit, 2nd Battalion, 137th Infantry, from 2005 through 2007. A combat engineer, Hill then volunteered to go right back to the fight, only to become injured.
Submitted Photo - - Image of Kansas National Guard Sgt. Allen Hill and his service dog, a yellow lab named Frankie, from a site called the “doggy blurb” at (www.blogspot.com).
But with the help of "Frankie," Hill is learning to cope, recovering from the invisible wounds and is hoping other wounded soldiers follow his lead.
"I hope people out there realize there are troops out there that need help," Hill said. "And that troops get over the stigma of seeking mental help."
Hill appeared with his dog on The Oprah Winfrey Show that aired Friday. He told his story of recovery and encouraged others not to be afraid of the stigma often attached to mental illness. It's not a sign of weakness, he said, to ask for help.
"No, it's not going to be like that. They need to get out there and get the help they need so they can reclaim their lives and regain themselves," Hill said.
He said Winfrey became overwhelmed during his interview by his story of recovery and how he and "Frankie" are inseparable.
"She couldn't get her questions out because she was too busy sobbing," Hill said.
Puppies Behind Bars
The dog was trained by Puppies Behind Bars, a group that trains inmates to raise puppies to become service dogs for the disabled. Hill was asked to represent the organization after he visited the inmate who trained the dog at a prison in New York.
"Getting to see the work and love the inmates pour into these animals and then give them up is amazing," said Hill. "That in itself was a huge tear-jerking moment."
Hill joined the Kansas National Guard in 1996 and remains in uniform, serving with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 137th Infantry Regiment. He is still on active duty as required by Army policy until he's medically cleared to return to his unit. Hill has prior military service dating to 1988.
Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the Kansas National Guard, said a change in policy in March 2008 would prevent soldiers from serving back-to-back deployments without approval of Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the adjutant general.
The change meant no soldier would be involuntarily mobilized for deployment without a minimum of two years at home, including soldiers transferring from the active duty branches to the Kansas National Guard. Bunting personally reviews each case of a soldier wanting to deploy sooner than one year after returning from combat.
"As the war in Iraq has continued, there has been more information that has become available about the effects that multiple deployments and multiple impacts can have on a soldier," Watson said.
The Kansas National Guard recently opened a resiliency center to help soldiers and families prepare for the stresses related to deployment. It is designed to prepare them for combat experiences or responding to traumatic events at home.