Thursday, July 05, 2018

Reservist Helps Treat PTSD With Equine Therapy

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Frank J. Casciotta, 302nd Airlift Wing

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tanesha Fierro, an aviation resource manager assigned to the Air Force Reserve’s 34th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, spends one night a week at the Norris Penrose Events facility here volunteering with an equine therapy program designed to help veterans and active-duty service members overcome their post-traumatic stress disorder by working with horses.

In 2016, Fierro was volunteering with a therapeutic riding program for children with disabilities when she was approached by another volunteer who asked her if she would be interested in a similar program working with soldiers and airmen suffering from PTSD. “Any time there’s an opportunity to help someone, I’m there,” she said. “I was just honored and excited to get involved in another equine therapy class.”

During an equine therapy session, patients spend time grooming and performing simple exercises with horses. As a volunteer, it’s Fierro’s job to ensure the safety of both horse and patient.

“Horses are such special creatures,” Fierro said. “They can sense if you’re hiding something, and people with PTSD seem to be guarded. The horses pick up on that and won’t cooperate until that shield comes down, which is what makes this so effective.”

Connecting With Service Members

As an Air Force reservist, Fierro brings a special dynamic to her work with other service members and veterans.

“Given that we are working with soldiers, the fact that she wears the uniform gives her instant credibility with them,” said Bill Reed, who has been a volunteer with the program for more than a decade. “A few sessions ago, there was one pretty tight-lipped fellow struggling with some of the concepts. Well, she started working with him, and it turned out they had the same job, except he was [in the] Army. Miles of his barriers fell down right then. He got better after that.”

Though having a military background helps Fierro connect with patients, Dr. Kelly Moss, a clinical psychologist who oversees the sessions, also credits her temperament.

“She is always very calm, kind and even-tempered, which is why I think she works so well,” Moss said. “That makes a big difference in making an initial connection with patients.”

Fierro’s passion for horses started when she was a child living at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England. Her mother, who is British, took Fierro with her to the stable, where she worked caring for horses.
“I think that’s where my nurturing side comes from,” Fierro said of her mother. “My mother was such a caregiver, and some of that rubbed off on me.”

Walkers Show Support for Deployed Loved Ones

By Army 2nd Lt. Angela DiMattia, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- About 7,390 miles separate Fort Carson and Afghanistan. It’s about 5,863 miles from Fort Carson to Kosovo. Soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, are deployed to both places.

To show support for their deployed loved ones, about 500 soldiers, family members and friends of the brigade participated in a “Walk to Kosovo/Afghanistan” June 15, attempting to collectively walk the number of miles that stand between them and the deployed soldiers -- about 13,250 miles -- during several events taking place over the length of the deployment.

Soldiers from the brigade are also taking part in their deployed locations.

“The Walk to Kosovo/Afghanistan is an opportunity for family members to come together and show their support for our deployed soldiers,” said Sandi Hillig, wife of Army Command Sgt. Maj. Anton Hillig. “It’s a great time for families to get out and enjoy the beautiful state we live in and make new friends along the way.”

Through the course of her 24-year marriage, Hillig said, she has been keen on finding ways to support her husband while he is deployed. Now a few months into the brigade’s deployment, she said, the Walk to Kosovo/Afghanistan made coping without her spouse easier.

“For me, it’s being surrounded by so many other spouses who are going through the same thing and just knowing we are not alone in this,” Hillig said. “Deployments are tough. Whether it’s your first or 10th deployment, it isn’t easy.”

Each battalion in the 2nd IBCT is assigned a family readiness liaison who leads the family readiness program, which helps families stay connected with their deployed soldiers.

“Families and soldiers walking side by side as one cohesive unit [creates] a gigantic support system for everyone involved,” said Army 1st Lt. Amanda Wood, the family readiness liaison for the 52nd Brigade Engineer Battalion. “The support that comes from [being] together gives people the chance to talk to others going through similar obstacles.”

During the walk, 2nd IBCT soldiers and families interacted with each other outside of work.
“It is a way for soldiers to build morale and feel connected with deployed members of the team,” Wood said.