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PHILIPSBURG – Few things can pry the attention of 80 kids away from a truck full of puppies.

But when the students from Philipsburg Elementary School saw the Black Hawk helicopter fly into Riddick Field Thursday morning, they rushed out for closer look.

Members of the Montana Army National Guard touched down in the Flint Creek Valley as part of a training flight from Helena, inviting kids to peek in and around the powerful aircraft.

Resident David Riggs, whose nonprofit K9 Care Montana, helps provide therapy dogs to wounded veterans, coordinated the field trip several weeks ago.

K9 Care is providing one dog for the Wounded Warrior Project and another for Project Healing Waters this year — both programs dedicated to rehabilitating injured soldiers.

Riggs brought along his dogs for kids to pet and hold while he explained their benefits to soldiers coming home from battle.

“We are providing further evidence that the dogs can decrease stress levels,” Riggs said. “Even a companion animal can make life a little better.”

When the Black Hawk finally soared over the horizon and landed at the small airport, kids

crowded around to touch and ask questions.

Wes Newhall, chief warrant officer with the National Guard, said they enjoy making these appearances as a way to reach out to communities around the state.

While the National Guard did not come specifically to endorse K9 Care, Newhall told The Montana Standard their visit is a great opportunity to inspire kids.

“Maybe it can show them the importance of staying in school, and making goals for themselves,” Newhall said. “It gives them something to think about, and aspire to a possible career.”

Likewise, Riggs told the Standard he hopes the unique visit will shape kids’ perspectives of the military.

The event was held in memory of Philipsburg native and Army Pfc. Kyle Bohrnsen, who was killed in April 2007 serving in Baghdad, Iraq.

Riggs founded K9 Care three years ago to customize peaceful outdoor getaways for kids with disabilities and their families. Services extend to veterans returning from overseas. All programs involve Riggs’ trained therapy dogs from Montana Retrievers.

“The folks who have taken part have had life-changing experiences,” Riggs said.

For more information about K9 Care, visit www.k9caremontana.org.

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— Reporter George Plaven may be reached at 496-5597, or via email at george.plaven@lee.net. Follow him at Twitter.com/@George_Plaven.

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