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Welcome to Puckapunyal and an intriguing exhibit

One of the stalls at this year's annual event at the military base was particularly worthy of mention.

CHALPAT SONTI February 12, 2014 4:37am

Meet the Army's latest recruit, and she's only two years old. Jaz (left) is being trained to be part of the Dog Squad, an initiative of the Young Diggers organisation and is pictured here with "veteran" Sarge, who is yet to turn two himself.


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As an annual event, the Welcome to Puckapunyal event has many familiar faces return each year to help newcomers to the military base feel at home, but this year there was one new stall worth special mention.

It was manned by the Young Diggers organisation, and at first glance two fairly-friendly canines probably attracted a few to see what it was all about on Thursday afternoon.

They would have found a fascinating story about an organisation that is working hard to help service personnel from recent conflicts who are suffering from the likes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or physically because of that service. Part of the support is through using specially-trained dogs, as Dog Squad co-ordinator Ben Arthur explained.

‘‘The dog helps people with mental and sometimes physical illnesses by watching their back,’’ he said.

‘‘It helps them go out in public areas and makes them feel comfortable and normal in situations. They go everywhere 24/7 with them, exactly the same as a guide dog.’’

The program also helps Australian Federal Police members and New Zealand service personnel. And its name has been chosen for a reason.

‘‘There aren’t any age limits (despite the name) but it is for more recent conflicts,’’ Mr Arthur said.

‘‘It is another option for a younger veteran, somewhere they might feel more comfortable, and by calling it ‘Young Diggers’ it steers away from words like Veteran.’’

The dogs, just one part of the service offered, go through rigorous training, with Jaz, one of the dogs pictured here, off to the Bathurst Correctional Facility to start her new career.

‘‘She’ll then go to a veteran to spend time with him and he’ll continue training her on her way to being a qualified assistance dog,’’ Mr Arthur said.

The organisation has only recently begun operating in Victoria, with seven members on board, part of more than 90 nationally.

‘‘Defence have been really good getting on board and while its not without its challenges (getting service personnel to accept they might benefit), there have been good results. Some people who wouldn’t leave the house before have been able to do it with a service dog. The other good thing with this is that you have to accept what’s going on with you.’’

The Welcome to Puckapunyal event was put on for the newcomers (and any existing families who wanted to go along) to the base, of which there are about 70 families and many more single people.

Organised by Defence Community Organisation, it has seen a growing number of local businesses, service groups, sporting clubs and other community groups showcase what they have to offer. And make the newcomers feel at home in our region.

To find out more about Young Diggers, go to www.youngdiggers.com.au

The main entrance to the Puckapunyal base is still closed, forcing vehicles to use Morobe Rd, but that should change next month.

By then, bridge strengthening work which will allow for 120tonne loads should be completed, enabling the main gates to be used again.

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