AAA Dogs Co-Founder
I was a career soldier. A rowdy Minnesota high school kid with bad grades, I joined the Marine Corps in 1992 and the U.S. Army in ’96. In the Marines, I was a Machine Gunner; in the Army, a CAV scout and an Infantryman. I was also a recruiter, enlisting more than 70 young men and women; but as a recruiter, I felt I couldn’t ask others to do what I was unwilling to do so I volunteered to go with an Infantry Unit. In April of 2004 we were on our way to Iraq. As we drove north out of Kuwait through mine fields that boarded the two countries I realized then I was in a war zone. We drove on the “Highway of Death,” and not much had changed since the Gulf War other than those same bombed out vehicles and tanks were pushed off to the side of the road. We eventually made it into the heart of Iraq. Meanwhile, a series of bombings in Bagdad and Karbala killed nearly 200 people, beginning a steady increase in violence across the country. The minute we set foot in Bagdad we came under fire and it was then I knew that my life was in God’s hands.
Much of my time in Iraq was spent in “high tempo” operations, day and night patrols, raids, and house-to-house firefights. Feeling invincible, day after day, we would all come home alive until we didn’t; one of our soldiers was killed by a roadside bomb. I remember standing in the middle of an overpass conducting a crater analysis while my soldiers picked up the remains of a great soldier that needlessly lost his life. Then another was lost in a firefight is some meaningless village. On August 12, 2004 as we were conducting a night patrol – I was blown out of the gun turret of my HUMMVEE by an improvised explosive device. I crawled back in and continued to engage the enemy until re-enforcements came. I was sent home for surgeries and eventually gave into counseling. Back home, I couldn’t settle down, I couldn’t sleep. I drank too much, took painkillers and looked for any way to keep from thinking about war. I would explode at my wife for no reason at all and destroy anything I could get my hands on. The Army diagnosed me with “readjustment disorder,” the doctors gave me meds for sleep, anger, anxiety, and hypertension. Eventually that was “Upgraded” to PTSD and TBI.
Then in 2008 I went back to Iraq, which made my symptoms worse, then worse again when I got home. And I began falling down, having speech problems, and forgetting simple things. My friends and family knew I was in trouble. A great friend suggested look at alternative therapies like getting a service dog and when I did my world changed. After 9 surgeries, seizures, PTSD and TBI my dog are always with me; he keeps me centered and calm and I take less prescription medication. I founded All American Assistance Dogs to help other veterans “Regain Their Independence” though the use of a service dog. I believe in dogs over drugs. I hope you do too.