16th Air Force headquarters welcomes new four-legged wingman

  • Published
  • By Sharon Singleton and Rachel Kibbe Williams
  • 16th Air Force
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Suicide, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder … these are all challenges that the workforce deals with daily and affects the Total Force.  16th Air Force knows the best way to accomplish the mission is to keep the backbone of the unit strong and support the team through resiliency efforts and training.

To bring resilience initiatives right into the offices, Col. Tracy Bozung, 16th Air Force surgeon general, with the rest of the Community of Action Team, routed the required request to start a therapy dog program at the 16th headquarters. This brought an English golden retriever named Bindi Lou or “Bindi” for short, to the 16th Air Force team, and Bindi has proven to be no ordinary dog.
“Therapy dog stress relief and joy are real -- just ask the people who interact with Bindi.”
- Carlos Bushman, therapy dog handler

“The surgeon general’s office oversees the therapy dog program and the approval of therapy teams, maintaining certification, information, and coordination of events for the therapy dog team,” said Bozung. “The current therapy dog team, Mr. Carlos Bushman and his dog Bindi, bring such joy and happiness to the 16th Air Force headquarter staff.  People light up when they see Bindi in the halls and in the offices.”
“This is not a ‘bring your dog to work’ program.  There has been a lot of effort and thought put into establishing the 16th Air Force Therapy Dog Program -- not the least of which was to make it a formal and repeatable process for other units to emulate,” said Bushman, Bindi’s handler. “Therapy dog stress relief and joy are real -- just ask the people who interact with Bindi.”

Bindi’s training allows her access to the 16th Air Force building where she goes room to room bringing stress relief, enjoyment, engagement, and dialogue to anyone who needs it.

Bushman knows how hard Bindi works and how much joy she delivers as an asset to the workforce.

“Bindi’s training was provided at PetSmart and her certification via an AKC-recognized therapy dog organization,” said Bushman. “She gets very excited, hops and barks ... she knows that when I brush her out, get her vest and leash, that it's ‘go’ time.  She loves serving!”
Bindi has already made an impact visiting approximately 11 offices and 70-75 personnel per visit. 

“The reactions are a mix of wonder, joy, and disbelief.  Wonder because she's not a service animal, that you cannot pet or touch; joy because when folks learn that they can pet Bindi, they can't help but give in to their impulse to pet a dog, at work; and disbelief because folks can't believe there is ACTUALLY a therapy dog program at 16th Air Force,” said Bushman.

Bindi is only one member of the new CoAT team. CoAT is also comprised of the command surgeon and her staff, the lead chaplain and his staff, the 16th Air Force True North team, first sergeant, deputy chief of staff and diversity and inclusion offices. Their primary mission is to coordinate and publicize deliberate actions addressing topics to include resiliency, culture, health, safety and awareness. In other words, this team is designed to directly support and exemplify the commander’s second priority to strengthen resilience.
Bozung said, “Under the Community of Action Team, the Therapy Dog Program builds on Lt. Gen. Kennedy's second priority of strengthening resiliency through improved morale in the workplace.”
As 16th Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Kevin Kennedy said, “Individual resilience leads to mission resilience. As Airmen, we will build a resilient force by maintaining our own resilience and supporting each other. A healthy and inclusive culture starts with our front-line leaders setting the example and understanding the challenges the Airmen on their team face.”