My name is Shaun M. Fitzpatrick, and I am a U.S. Army Veteran of 23 years, I went into the Army in 1982 and got out in 2006, and I am a Combat Veteran with 3 Purple Hearts.
After I got out of the Army in 2006, I knew I had changed a great deal. I did 4 combat tours in a row and being "back on the block" was something that I was not ready for. Like all vets I thought I was good to go but quickly found out I had T.B.I., P.T.S.D., amongst a whole list of other things the V.A. had found. I quickly took to drinking again to self-medicate as well as chewing Vicodin like Skittles to ease the pain and quell the anxiety, depression, and survivors’ guilt. In my little world, I drove every person and everything I ever had away, got divorced, lost my house, my kids, and my grandkids. Well the only thing next was to off myself, and believe me I tried, I put a 9 mm into my mouth and pulled the trigger 4 times, and all 4 rounds never went off. Of course I was trashed and having a pity party, but I knew how to lock and cock a weapon. A friend had just walked into my house and stopped me before I could pull it a 5th time, he did, and the weapon discharged into the wall, that's when I knew I had hit rock bottom and it was time for a change.
I picked myself up dusted myself off and started to drive-on. I met a woman with 2 children, got married, and was doing good, but I knew something was missing.
Well thanks to Dogs 4 Warriors I have found what I was missing, Sheila paired D4W Ava to me, this beautiful creature is now my battle buddy, and we are inseparable. I could never go to diners, markets, stores, or anywhere else because of my P.T.S.D., but with my service dog I do now, besides getting married to my wife, this program Sheila and Andy Slezak started has made the most positive impact in my life.
It is not going to change me overnight. I still have my issues, but having a service dog gives me the options that I had given up on. I am starting to go to the store, and not at 1 or 2 in the morning when no one is there. D4W Ava and I have bonded to the point she is with me night and day, everywhere I go she goes, although I have only had her for 1 month now, she is truly my best friend.
Without this program, I do not know where I would be today. My dog is trained for all of my issues. Sheila sees to it that every dog is trained for the specific Veteran’s needs. I have been trying to get a dog for over 10 years to no avail. I was told I would be put on a 7-year wait list at one place and at another, I was told it was going to cost me 18,000 dollars. With Dogs 4 Warriors Sheila paired me with D4W Ava and had me bonding with Ava in 7 months.
Sheila made it all about the needs of the vet. She does this out of pocket and with little help from donations. Her slogan is "The Brotherhood Continues" and with D4W it is the truth. Without D4W, I would still be in my little world, but with D4W Ava, my world is starting to open up again, and I am feeling a little human again, so for that I am thankful to D4W and Sheila.
Words cannot describe the feelings I have for D4W and the people who help out in the program. I would not know where to start to repay Sheila the kindness, and giving she has for all Veterans, but I can tell you it was like I adopted a whole new family there, and yes when it was my time to leave and go home to my wife and kids I cried. That is what this program and staff means to me, if anyone of them ever needed me, without hesitation I would be there for them.
I was at Sheila Slezak’s place of residence, aka “The Compound” from September 5 until September 15. There I conducted training with my service dog D4W Captain for 10 days.
Who has been my best friend since receiving him. Before I got him, I was in the hospital for 5 months due to a gun shot wound I received from myself, in an attempt to end my struggle with my demons from my five years of serving my beloved country honorably. I was in a low spot in my life with money and being jobless, depressed, and seeing no rightful ending aside from ending my own life.
God had another plan for me and let me live after several surgeries and upon awaking, a brother of mine introduced me to Dog 4 Warriors, my mother and girlfriend contacted Mrs. Slezak and quickly got me signed up for a service dog.
Once I was stable and capable of living on my own again, I went to her place of residence for 10 days where her and her husband Andy fed me and gave me a place to stay, due to financial issues I am having, and trained me on how to use D4W Captain. Since having him I have felt better in public, keeps me busy mentally, and keeps me in check with dark thoughts. I could not have thought of or asked for a better friend or dog. I cannot thank Ms. Sheila enough for all that she did for me. Thank you.
It is simply not possible to describe just how much Dogs 4 Warriors, the organization, and the brotherhood has improved my life over the past year since I was lucky enough to be paired with my service dog D4W Moose. When I was discharged from the Army, and left the war (Operation Desert Shield/Storm) in June of 1991, I was a lost soul. Suffering from the traumas of what I had seen and what I had done in the war, I spent the next 24 years attempting to find ways to cope with what I had seen and done. I ruined a marriage and nearly myself with alcohol and rage and other conflicting emotions in the process. I did not even know what I was suffering from, I only knew that I was full of conflict and pain, both physical and emotional and I did not know how to handle it or where it even came from.
An old friend mentioned that I must be suffering from PTSD or Gulf War Syndrome or some such thing from the war and I started looking into getting treatment at the local VA center. I was diagnosed with PTSD and started getting some help, but I still could not socialize without alcohol, and alcohol was not an option for me anymore. I still was crippled with panic attacks whenever I even thought about having to go to the store, where PEOPLE are!
I have always been a dog lover. I wondered about therapy dogs or service dogs and such and if one might be able to help me. One night we started looking on the internet for the criteria on how a veteran would be eligible to receive a service dog. Then we stumbled upon Dogs 4 Warriors. I applied. I was accepted.
When I was contacted and told that they had a dog ready to be paired up with me, it was the happiest and most terrifying day of my life post-war. I really wanted to know if having a service dog would help with my social anxiety and panic attacks. I wanted to know if having a service dog would help me get out of my house and back into the community, among the living. Being paired up with a service dog meant that I would have to leave my home and go to the training facility for two weeks to train with my dog, all by myself, and interact with complete strangers.
But even before I was paired up with my dog, once I had been accepted, I was introduced to the Brotherhood. So, Sheila and some of the guys really were not complete strangers. We talked online through the private Facebook group. I had actually met Shelia in person when I assisted her in retrieving a rescue dog from Florida. I was one of the transporters along the way for one of the dogs who was trained and then placed with another veteran. So, in a way, it was like going to my "other family" for the holidays or something to pick up my "gift," my service dog.
D4W Moose has been with me for one year now. He goes everywhere with me. Now, I go places besides home and work. We go to the park. We go to the mall, to the store, to visit relatives. We go out to eat in restaurants. We go to friends homes and enjoy meals with their families. None of these things I did before I had D4W Moose.
I owe a deep and sincere gratitude to Dogs 4 Warriors and the Brotherhood for giving me back my life. Before I got D4W Moose, I had no life. Now, I am living a full life and I am connected for life with this Brotherhood.
My name is Andrew I was a machine gunner in the Marine Corps and was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2006. While I was deployed, I was involved in combat operations against insurgents. I was blown up by an IED and suffered a TBI and PTSD.
I was medically discharged in 2009. I started taking a lot of medication and drinking heavily after I was back into the civilian world. One of the biggest problems I had was not sleeping I would stay up for days on end. My wife would tell me that when I would sleep I was very active and when she would try to wake me up I would freak out on her but I had no memory of this ever happening.
I was referred to Dogs 4 Warriors by a friend of mine. I went up to the facility and was partnered with "Stormy" as Silver Lab. I spent the next 10 days learning a lot from Sheila about how to work with a service dog and how to integrate Stormy into my everyday life.
Stormy kept waking me up multiple times throughout the night and I asked if this was normal. Shelia explained that when I am sleeping and have flashbacks and nightmares that the dog will wake me up. This was an eye opener for me. Since I have been back home and have had Stormy, I have actually really slept for the first time in years. I know that I can actually rest and know Stormy has my back. My wife has said that she has seen a difference while I am out in public with stormy and how much happier I am with having Stormy in my life.
I am an 18 Year Veteran with 7 Tours of which four were in Iraq, Iran, Cuba and Afghanistan. Since I’ve gotten home I’ve had the police called on me, I’ve been in the psych ward twice and PTSD Unit twice. None of that helped me. I am taking 21 pills a day just to survive. I have been unable to leave my house. I have attempted suicide three times. I sleep with all my guns around me. I have been surviving for the last three years not living.
Thanks to my Loving Wife I was connected to Dogs 4 Warriors. Sheila Slezak accepted me into the program. I received D4W Heidi October 2016. Since I’ve had Heidi I am now leaving my house without fear of being arrested or hurting anyone, going out with my Wife. My depression isn’t as near as bad, when I do get depressed D4W Heidi helps bring me out of it. Dogs 4 Warriors has saved my life and I’m starting to live again.
MA1(IDW) Wahl, Jeffery K
Hello my name is Jason Eckles I spent 14 years in the Navy SEABEE’s doing a total of 9 deployments that included 2 tours to Iraq (OIF), 2 tours to Afghanistan (OEF), 1 to Horn of Africa (OND). I began to self-medicate with alcohol for anxiety and depression from the byproducts of PTSD not knowing what it all meant and what was to follow could be terrifying. I had reached absolute rock bottom I had woken up every morning for as many years as I could recall with an overwhelming sense of dread. I had no interest in doing anything recreational or with friends I was notorious for disappearing and not returning calls for lengths at a time. I cannot adequately express the extent of my gratitude and respect for Dogs 4 Warriors, Sheila and her family. I was issued “Bubba” a Belgian Malinois and he has changed my life forever. I went to the Compound for almost 2 weeks working and learning from Sheila, she will give you instructions if you follow these instructions you will have success. Bubba will feed off every emotion I have and then redirects me. From the day Bubba and I met things have been amazing he opens my eyes day after day little by little and gets me comfortable and keeps me calm and collective. He has helped me to be with the one person I always needed in my life Renee’ thank you. Dogs 4 Warriors you have saved yet another Veteran.
SEABEE “CAN DO"
My name is Cory Howard and I am a Veteran of the United States Marine Corps. I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2003 and was stationed in Camp Lejeune, N.C. From Camp Lejeune, I deployed on three separate occasions to Iraq: 2004, 2005, and 2007; all three of these deployments to Fallujah, Iraq and the areas surrounding Fallujah.
During my last deployment, 2007, I was wounded in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq when our vehicle ran over an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). The injuries I sustained were extensive: 3rd degree burns to 45% of my body and shrapnel to the entire right side of my body. Due to my injuries I was medically retired by the U.S. Marine Corps in 2010 with 100% Service-Connected Disability.
My mother in-law actually found out about Dogs 4 Warriors while surfing the internet and gave me the contact information. I already had a female German shepherd puppy named Jinx, who was very disobedient, so I put the contact information to the side for about 4 months.
Jinx was supposed to a companion for me because of my PTSD. I did not like to leave the house so she was supposed to be there to comfort me during the day. However, she made my days worse because of her disobedience. She literally chewed through both arms of the couch; my stress levels were extremely high and my marriage was on the edge of destruction as well.
After I finally reached my limit I remembered the contact information for Dogs 4 Warriors and contacted Sheila to see if she would take Jinx and train her to be a Service Dog, to which she agreed.
Since Jinx and I have completed our training I have seen a dramatic change in my behavior. I actually leave the house because I know Jinx has my back at all times. She is there to comfort me and give me a sense of security.
Prior to Jinx getting trained I would have nightmares to the point that we would have to change the bed sheets every morning due to my sweating and moving around so much. Now, Jinx senses when I am having a nightmare and wakes me up by licking my mouth until I snap out of it, which is usually before the nightmares get to bad. I can actually relax and go to sleep more easily now because I know she is going to alarm me if something isn’t right. The comfort of knowing that Jinx’s main goal is me also makes dealing with my PTSD much easier.
In closing I would just like to say that once you receive a dog from Dogs 4 Warriors, it doesn’t mean Sheila and her volunteers’ job is through. They are always there when I need advice and to help me along the way. They open up their lives to you and your new best friend and are support, no matter what issues you’re having. I still go to “The Compound” a couple times a month to do more training and help Jinx excel to the next level. This has been an amazing journey and I am so proud to be a part of the Dogs 4 Warriors Family.
How do you put into words events or people that change your life? Different events affect people in different ways, and over the past years have brought challenges I never thought I’d face in my life. How these challenges would have affected my life will forever be a question I will not have an answer for. Had it not been for Woody, I know my experience would have been significantly different.
Woody is a 19-month-old, 85-pound Black Lab. He came into our life in July of 2015. Since then we’ve watched him grow with our family, along with children, dogs, seniors, and those who we hold dear. Without the training we have received from the folks we now call family at Dogs 4 Warriors, we may have never been able to bring happiness to all those listed above. Most importantly, Woody has brought a new sense of purpose into my life, one that helps me wake up every morning knowing I have something to care for beyond myself.
I served as a Army Combat Medic for 9 years, and grew through the ranks from a private to a corporal. After serving in Iraq in 2004-2005 in the Mosul province and 2005-2006 in the Sunni Triangle I returned home to issues related to PTSD and TBI as well as having a severely messed up back. Having a service dog in my life, helps bring me back into the moment upon receiving the unconditional love that a dog always provides. Woody could care less if I had a good day or a bad day; the only thing Woody cares about is pleasing me, and I can only wish that I can bring him that same joy. With gums flapping in the wind during every car ride, never a day goes by that he doesn’t bring a smile and joy into my heart.
Lastly, none of this may have been possible without the help of Sheila Slezak who brought Woody, my wife, my children and me into the D4W family. I will forever be indebted and grateful for the opportunity I received to train Woody into a partner and a friend that can always be by my side, and who always bring me back to the moment. My life will forever be better for this incredible opportunity.
– Jeremy “Doc” Caldwell
Life is not always going to give us what we want. Many people when they were younger wanted to be a famous athlete or a doctor and make millions of dollars but when it came down to it that just wasn’t in the cards for them so they became United States Marines instead. I was trained in the art of war, hand to hand combat and killing and I am damn good at it but then things change and you can’t be that killer you once were, people don’t understand you and you become a loner and become reckless and out of control. You lose everything. I lost everything. I had a wonderful wife, beautiful children, a house, a car, I had it all and then just like that in a blink of an eye it was gone.
They say PTSD, they say bi polar, they say anxiety, depression, and all kinds of other shit. Well I guess that was enough for me to want to call it quits. I mean seriously I served my country I did what many won’t even talk about shouldn’t I get a pass. I am sorry I was a bad husband and I am sorry I am a bad father but damn it I was a good Marine and I led my Marines with honor and pride. I took care of them and loved them with all my heart. I tried my best. I miss my Marines and I hate that I am not a Marine anymore. And I don’t wanna hear that stupid bullshit of Once a Marine always a Marine, cause its not true. With out my rifle and my Marines I am nothing but a ghost, a has been, I have been replaced and there is nothing that I can do about it.
I am miserable but am still alive and breathing not just because of my dog Karma, but because of a woman named Sheila who found it in her heart to take care of a broken down Marine that she barely even knew. She took me into her home and gave her wonderful family to me as they were my own. She never sleeps and is always on the prowl for more Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen to help. She easily could be making lots of money for her hard work but she doesn’t. She cares more about us living and managing life than making money. She is a superstar and I love her with all my heart. She is the real reason I am still alive. My service dog Karma is spoiled. She eats the best food, sleeps in a luxurious bed, and is pampered whenever she wants. Her life is great. And the best part is she doesn’t even have to talk to me. I love her so much and I am glad that Sheila found her for me.
If it wasn’t for Karma I wouldn’t get up most days. Most weeks I can stay in bed for 3 to 4 days at a time. I can’t stand people and they make me sick actually. But Karma makes me take care of her and that keeps me going. Shes my buddy, my pal, my best friend. When its dark out she finds the light. Dogs 4 Warriors is a great place to be. Oh and if you truly need a dog and are ready to let it take care of you and you take care of it then go to Ohio and train with Sheila and your dog and find some happiness in life. If you can’t go train in Ohio with Sheila then your a joke anyway cause the last time I checked anyone that serves in the military had to do some type of training to get any qualification that they have. Nothing was given for free, everything is earned. So don’t be a lazy shitbag and asked for your dog to be mailed to you. Go bond with Sheila and your dog and train. That’s the cost to get back to some type of normal. Go to Sheila, listen to her instructions, bond with your dog, meet Andy hes freakin awesome, eat great food, laugh, cry, and then smack Sheila on the ass and say good training boss I love you and then go home. Its that simple.
SSGT TINO 0369/USMC
“BE POLITE, BE PROFESSIONAL, BUT ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN TO KILL EVERYONE YOU MEET”
My name is Justin Schuh I was recently paired with a dog through Dogs 4 Warriors. I served 14 years in the Marine Corps. I was medically retired as a Sargent in January of 2014 for PTSD and TBI. I deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan as a Scout Sniper.
When I returned from my last deployment from Afghanistan I noticed a change in myself I couldn't go out in public without having an anxiety attack or anger outburst. It was also happening during family events. This was effecting
family life having two children it was hard for me to go and enjoy my daughter who is 11 play sports or taking my 2 year old son anywhere because I was to worried about my surroundings. In the two weeks that I stayed at the compound of Dogs 4 Warriors and working with Sheila and my dog Sarge it is a little easier to go to restaurants and malls.
Having Sarge by my side is like having one of my marines with me at all times to watch my back, when he senses my anxiety level rise he distracts me to get my mind off everything around me and focus my attention on him. What Sheila, her family and the Dogs 4 Warriors organization are doing is just amazing. I can't express how much it means to me and my family.
Thank you for everything you are doing.
Justin Schuh Sgt.USMC (ret.)
My name is Randy Montgomery. I am a veteran who has both received a dog from D4W and volunteers with them. My experience with D4W has been life changing.
First, having a service dog to help mitigate my symptoms and deal with stress has helped me more than I can describe. Having been an animal lover all my life and having worked with dogs for 20 years, I thought I knew what I was getting into. I didn't. Scrappy, my service dog, is more than a pet. He smooths my way in social and public situations I once found unbearable. He interrupts my nightmares. He gives me a reason to crawl out of my shell when I'm down. He somehow feels what I feel and alerts me when I'm unraveling and I don't even know it yet.
In addition to Scrappy, D4W has given me a support network of veterans who know what I am going through and the support of everybody volunteering with them. I feel genuine love from my D4W family. The are also a wonderful knowledge base for a veteran in need.
Finally, the D4W family has given me a chance in life I never expected in very real ways. I've taken a rough road in life, including being an ex felon. My job prospects are poor, I was on the edge of homeless, VA or VSO help is scarce at best. When the rubber hits the road, nobody really has much help for an ex felon veteran. D4W has given me a fresh start, a place to live, a healthy transition into the civilian world, and most importantly, a mission life where I can give back and help other people like myself.
I am a believer in the D4W mission. They are in the trenches doing the real work. D4W does the tough, unglamorous, and underappreciated work of helping real veterans in need. Not only do they change lives, sometimes they even save them.
Thank you, Randy Montgomery
My name is Sherman Chao. I’m a United States Army retired veteran. I was in the active duty Army from 1993 through 2005. I reenlisted into the New York Army National Guard in 2007 and retired medically this year. During my time in the active duty Army I was deployed to Honduras, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. My deployments to Honduras, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Bosnia were with NATO and United Nations missions. I served two combat missions to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003-2004, 2004-2005 and one combat mission to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2008-2009. After returning from Afghanistan I was diagnosed with Diabetes, severe TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), severe PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Dogs 4 Warriors was referred to me by a friend and fellow combat veteran. After doing some research on Dogs 4 Warriors I decided to get a hold of Sheila Slezak and start the process of being paired with a service dog. Throughout the waiting period, Sheila Slezak, and or Jack Andrew Archer kept in contact with me giving me updates on my status on the waiting list. I was given the opportunity to go to Ohio to the Dogs 4 Warriors Compound on May 4, 2015 and was paired with D4W Hanna. I was trained as a handler with Hanna until May 20, 2015. During my time at the compound I was treated with respect and it felt like a family environment. Since coming home Hanna and I have been continually working on becoming a team. Hanna has been a blessing to my life because she is continually at my side alerting me when I have a PTSD moment, anxiety attack, or simply when I get upset about something or at a person. Since having Hanna, my psychiatrist has taken me off my anti depressant medication, and my anti anxiety medication. Hanna and I are very active, we have been doing half 5ks and also doing 5ks at least once a week with a veterans support group called Team RWB. The picture that is on the top of the first page is Hanna and I before her first official 5k taken this past Sunday.
I would like to say thank you to Sheila and her family and the entire Dogs 4 Warrior Group for all their support for Hanna and I. I will be recommending the group to a few of my veteran friends who also suffer from PTSD and TBI.
In just a short time that I have had my dog Seth it is opening my eyes to a whole new world. Sheila and her family have just been wonderful I cannot say enough good things about this organization from top to bottom. The training is comfortable and Sheila is a great teacher. My wife said it best when talking to me on the phone it was the first time in years that she has heard the man she married so long ago. I know that Seth is going to not only help me but my whole family by relieving the burden I place on them when trying to go out to certain places and I want to be able to go out and do things with my young son that I could not do before without the anxiety that would cause me not to go. He should be able to enjoy things going out with his father and not have to be on watch. The slogan they have here is more than true the brotherhood does continue. I have already noticed small changes in my life, I am more engaging when I am out in public when before I would give off the vibe and the demeanor that I didn’t want to be messed with. I am just thrilled to think what my life might be like in months or years from now. Seth is amazing making me comfortable in public and waking me from night terrors and that is just in the first week. Thank you Sheila and the whole family of Dogs 4 Warriors.
Gregg McKinley U.S. Army D co. 101mi LRSD
Watching Gregg McKinley and Seth lay on the couch together tonight, I am moved. Just a week ago, this animal was brought into our lives by Sheila Slezak, and so much has changed.
I am seeing glimpses of this man who used to be filled with joy. He is still there. He is getting out every day, and he is not as angry.
Sheila Slezak and Jack Andrew Archer and Dogs 4 Warriors have saved a man who I thought I had lost. I am going to be forever grateful, and my words will never be enough.
I am just so thankful for the gift of Gregg that they have given me and my son.
( Greggs wife Pam McKinley) via Facebook
I just wanted to take a few minutes to say thank you for Dogs 4 Warriors.
My name is Keith Richardson. I have 2 kids and a wife. I have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both tours I was injured, and the last tour really had a bad effect on me. I couldn't handle crowds, or really go outside and enjoy anything. I couldn't even spent time with my kids doing things they loved. I was sliding downhill quickly and no hope in site.
Then I had a friend show me D4W. I signed up and starting talking to the group. It started to look good finally having people that have been through the same stuff I have. Then Sheila had a dog ready for me. I jumped at the idea of a Service Dog.
Ninja has been a blessing. He is my angel without wings. I can finally go outside and enjoy myself. I have been to several baseball games, track and field events, and now soccer games. I couldn't be happier.
I got my Rosie a labradoodle in April. We bonded really good. She knew what to do to help me. I never owned a dog and have a very hard time bonding with people.
I am a 65 year old Vietnam vet who served with 1/5 Quesaun mountain area. I was in country 7 months and left in May of 71 with HQ 1st Marine Regt. I was a general purpose L/Cpl. I made Cpl and held the same bulit, Cpl do anything. In 72 I started with ptsd signs but seeing there was no such thing as ptsd I struggle till 98 when I got help at the Vet Center in buffalo NY. I work for 33 years as plastic inj mold operator for 25 of those years.
I was married in 1975 to the best person in the world. We went thru hard time till Joe R pick up a blog I had on face book. He contact Dogs for warriors and I was put on a waiting list for a non-allergenic dog. Being very ignorant on raising dogs and such, I was a pain in the ass for dog for warriors asking stupid questions. Now we’ll talk about Rosie the Great dog. I must admit she aggravates me and drives me nuts. This not a bad thing, then I stop worrying about myself. The best way to tell you how wonder full Rosie is. I went to the Dentist had to filling done and act like it was no big deal, Rosie was there and I was calm. I am never calm in the Dentist office and especially the chair. No big deal. I also went to Clarksville TN and march in the parade with Rosie who was the star attraction. I was able to march in the parade with strangers and had a good time. Rosie let me enjoy my Welcome Home from Vietnam parade. That is major. Our lives in North Boston NY is good I do forget who is boss but then I remember how bad my life was without Rosie, she saved my Life.
Writing my story its tuff, but Rosie is lying right next to me as I type it. God bless Dogs for Warriors they are life savers.
Hi, my name is Joshua A. Jones. I spent 8 yrs. on Active Duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. My job in the Marine Corps was Military Police. I was born and raised, and currently live in, Sparta, TN. I deployed several different times.
In 2000, I went to Vieques, Puerto Rico because the local populace was inhabiting the Live Impact Area that the United States had used since World War II. This was a joint operation called Operation Eastern Access.
In February 2002, I deployed on ship to the Indian Ocean in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. On this deployment I visited many different companies and conducted different operations in Djibouti, Africa. I returned home in August of 2002.
In January 2003, I deployed again to Kuwait in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, which changed to Operation Iraqi Freedom during our deployment. While in Kuwait I was a Squad Leader and conducted countless Convoy Security Operations, Route Reconnaissance, Battlefield Circulation and Control, and even U.S. Customs operations. I returned home in July of 2003.
In October of 2003, I changed duty stations to Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, GA. While stationed in Albany I was the Watch Commander for Military Police daily operations. I responded to numerous Domestic Disputes, Assaults, Vehicle Accidents, Medical Assist situations, and other Law Enforcement operations. I was Medically Separated from the Marine Corps in April 2007 and moved back home to Sparta, TN.
I am married to my High School sweetheart and we have been together since 1997. Upon my discharge from the Marine Corps I was so focused on the task at hand: finding a job, housing, and a stable life for my wife and kids. I did not see the obvious warning signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I was having trouble maintaining steady employment, due to adapting to the “Civilian Way” of doing business. I also was starting to lose interest in everything in daily life. I was slowly falling into a state of Depression.
I would go to stores and constantly watching everything and everyone around me (hyper-vigilance). I’d go to a restaurant and would have to be seated as to where my back was against the wall and I could see the door and everything around me. I even drove differently, mainly slow and easy, but at times with a lead foot. I ignored the signs. I also was slowly losing my ability to remember things as well.
My childhood was good. However, I would be at a dinner with family and they would tell stories that I don’t remember. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember much at all about my childhood. I forget my own age daily.
I have been working for DirecTV for about five and half years now but my production has decreased dramatically over the course of the last year and a half. This is grossly due to the fact that I can’t remember what I am doing or need to do most of the time. I am also extremely hyper-vigilant in every home I go in to. I hear gunshots and I flatten myself out on the roof top of the house, while trying to install a satellite dish.
All of these things lead up to me finally making an appointment at the VA with a Psychiatrist. I was instantly diagnosed with PTSD and eventually obtained a Disability Rating from VA as well. I have spent the night in the Emergency Room for Severe Anxiety Attacks, checked doors and windows prior to bedtime, and taken medicine, but still no relief from this dark cloud over me.
I was on a PTSD Facebook page in December 2013 and learned of a lady named Sheila Slezak who was training Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD and/or TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). I contacted her immediately and started the process of getting a Service Dog.
I received Samson, a two year old German Shepherd, in March of 2014.
Samson goes with me everywhere and watches everything and everyone around me which eases my mind. He is a companion when I am having an Anxiety Attack he will get my attention so that I will focus on him rather than my mind. He does walk the house prior to bed, and at night he will sleep in front of my closed bedroom door. He is by my side constantly and cries if I leave without him. He has given me another thing, plus my family, to look forward too when I come home from work. Unfortunately, where I need him the most is at work, but he isn’t allowed to come with me. The company doesn’t want the liability since I am in multiple different houses on a daily basis.
I can see the companies point and am in agreement for now. I am in pursuit of finishing up my degree in Business and am in search of a new job where he will be able to accompany me on a daily basis.
I closing I’d just like to say the difference in my actions daily, lack of needing medication to function, and the boost of motivation for life has been great since getting Samson. However, the trauma is still there and will never completely go away. Samson just helps when the need arises and is a true friend the rest of the time. I have lost most friend's due to living a reclusive lifestyle since my discharge, but Samson has made the trips to town easier, mentally, and hopefully will be by my side for a long time.
I will forever be indebted to Dogs 4 Warriors and Sheila Slezak for their unwavering support and continued mission of helping veterans. Very few organizations can say they are changing veteran’s lives for free and really mean it. Sheila is an amazing woman and has a great family which is continuing to grow on a daily basis with every new veteran who is accepted into the Dogs 4 Warriors program.
Joshua Jones USMC
I am thankful every day that I found Dogs 4 Warriors on Facebook. I am the type of person who just “sucks it up and drives on.” When I went for my compensation and pension appointment at the VA, the psychologist recommended a service dog for me. I honestly didn’t give it any thought until I found this organization.
The process has been amazing. I was paired with Bella, a bi-color German Shepherd. She is an amazing dog. I was nervous about the training and meeting new people. That was no reason for me to be nervous. While I was there training, Sheila made you feel like family. Every day I am with Bella, our bond grows stronger. We both learn from each other. Bella knows when I am having a bad PTSD day and does her very best to distract me. She loves to play ball. Other times when I am having an off day, she will go grab her Service Dog vest and basically make me take her. She has such drive to work for me.
It truly is amazing. Bella has become my sidekick 24/7. When I am out with the family food shopping, Bella is in her glory, with her ears up and very attentive to her surroundings while focusing on me. The funny thing is, Bella kind of took on a motherly role with my whole family. When we are out and about, she has to have eyes on my wife, kids and myself. Especially my 4 yr old daughter. Since I have had Bella, I have not taken my PTSD meds. I haven’t needed them. My life has truly improved. If it weren’t for my everyday aches and pains, I would feel normal again. Bella has truly become a rock star around town. Thank you Sheila S. and family for all that you sacrifice for us Veterans in dogs4warriors.org
Since I was paired with my dog Ruger, I was able to sit at McDonalds and eat with my back to the door for the first time since 2003! Ruger helps my anxiety by nuzzling me to pet him which takes my mind off of whatever is bothering me. He also lays next to my feet and relaxes a lot, which helps me relax because I know if there was someone near or some reason to worry he would be up trying to get someone to love on him, or looking around. I have been able to go to the store during the day because Ruger’s secret “Power” is the ability to draw people to focus on him. I have had to confront my anxiety more by having to deal more with people who are interested in my service dog.
Since I have had Ruger, I have thought he is just a baby, always wanting to be pet, but as I write this I think it is really more just him trying to avert my anxiety. I LOVE having a big dog like an Irish Wolfhound because it really gets people to move out of your way without asking. The only issue with having a BIG WHITE dog with long fur is when he decides he wants to run through burdock and roll in the grass/mud it makes for a LOOONG day of washing and brushing! I am currently working on my Bachelor’s Degree online in Cyber Security, and am a stay at home mom of 2 beautiful kids.
I THANK YOU Dogs 4 Warriors, from the bottom of my heart for providing me with a fur buddy to cover my 6. The experience you have and the ability to pair “us” with hand selected dogs is AMAZING! The time spent training and bonding at the compound is the closest thing to being back in the military and being a “family” of something big! I will continue to support and promote this great organization, and appreciate the opportunity to be part of this great family!
Rebecca Healey US Army
My name is Trevor Armstrong; I am a medically retired US Army Soldier with a Traumatic Brain Injury, and PTSD. I have been working with Dogs 4 Warriors since the start of the program, and it has been outstanding. I have been treated with respect, and dignity. They paired me with my companion quickly, and the match is perfect. They opened their home to me, provided meals, and never asked for a dime. I am deeply in debt to Sheila, Andy (her husband), their family and all of the people that make Dogs 4 Warriors work. Not only for DougE, my service dog, but everything in between.