Chaplain finds canine partner helps erode barriers

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FORT BLISS, Texas (AP) - She is known simply as the “chaplain with the dog” to the many soldiers she has served with at Fort Bliss and Afghanistan and even to the people she meets in the El Paso community.

Chaplain Maj. Karen Hallett has a sidekick she is seen almost everywhere with - her dog, Sgt. Zoe, a psychiatric service dog who is trained to help people dealing with post-traumatic stress.

Hallett, 49, from Vernon, N.J., has had Sgt. Zoe since February 2012 and uses her as a way to break down barriers and provide additional support to the soldiers in her unit and around the Army.

Her dog can often be seen in the doorway of her office at West Fort Bliss, beckoning visitors.

“Here is how it works,” Hallett said. “Someone comes by. Zoe is laying out in the hallway. She’s cute. They stop. They pet her. I have a chance to say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? What’s going on?’ Very often, they will come in and sit down and talk about whatever. It opens a door that wouldn’t be open to me normally.

“I almost can’t get work done in my office, which is what we want as a chaplain,” she told the El Paso Times ( ). “We want people to stop by.”

Hallett, a nondenominational Christian chaplain, has been the brigade chaplain for 402nd Field Artillery Brigade, First Army, Division West at Fort Bliss since April 2013.

Before that, she served as the brigade chaplain for the 411th Engineer Brigade, a reserve unit out of New York state. While with the 411th, she deployed to Afghanistan and brought the dog with her.

Zoe, an adorable black Labrador, was a huge hit with the troops in Afghanistan - at Bagram Airfield and anywhere else the pair traveled.

“It was a phenomenal experience,” Hallett said. “I can’t tell you the number of ways she impacted my ministry there. I would literally get calls and emails from people, ‘Are you the chaplain with the dog and can you come over to our unit?’ “

Hallett said she has hundreds of stories of how Sgt. Zoe has helped reach soldiers.

As an example, they were flying back to Bagram in Afghanistan and the flight crew for the airplane they were on wanted a photo with the dog when they landed.

“The pilot is standing there and we’re chatting,” Hallett said. “Everyone has gotten off the plane. That couple of minutes turned into a two-hour counseling for the pilot who was devastated because his marriage was falling apart.”

If not for her dog, she would have never had that chance to break the ice with that pilot who needed her help, Hallett said.

At Fort Bliss, Hallett is responsible for providing religious support to about 400 soldiers and their families who are part of the 402nd Field Artillery Brigade. The brigade runs the Mobilization Training Center at Fort Bliss and is responsible for training National Guard and Reservists before they deploy. The brigade also does the in-processing work for these troops when they return from deployments. Counting those soldiers, Hallett can be responsible for the spiritual needs of up to 4,000 troops depending on the time of year.

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