Help Fund Service Dogs for Veterans

by Warrior Canine Connection
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Help Fund Service Dogs for Veterans
Help Fund Service Dogs for Veterans
Help Fund Service Dogs for Veterans
Dian and Chuck
Dian and Chuck

Life Before Chuck

Dian served nine years in the Air Force; she spent half of those years as a bioenvironmental engineering technician and the other half as a Ceremonial Guardsman with the Air Force Honor Guard in Washington, D.C. Her station assignments included March Air Reserve Base, Riverside County, California; Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C.; and the Bentwaters Royal Air Force Base (now known as Bentwaters Park), near Woodbridge, Suffolk in England.  

It was during her last tour of duty in the UK that she met, Mark, a DoD firefighter, the love of her life and husband of 31 years now. That was also about the time Desert Storm started. She and Mark both volunteered to travel to support U.S. military efforts, but both were held at their respective duty stations to help support staff.

In 1991, Dian felt it was time to get out and move on to something different; she left the Air Force and moved stateside. She became a veterinary technician, where she worked for a while, then she went back to bioenvironmental engineering as a DoD employee for several years.

In 1994, she and Mark had their son, Shannon Mark, who is now a DoD firefighter on the same crew her husband used to run all those years ago.

Life was moving on, but Dian wasn’t. She found herself experiencing severe anxiety and depression that prevented her from doing a lot of things. She sought help from medical experts. 

“I was dealing with PTSD for many years and didn’t know it until I finally got diagnosed by the VA,” said Dian. “The diagnosis was a shock … I was floored. I had internalized a lot of things I had gone through in the military and didn’t even realize it.” 

A doctor recommended she get a service dog. Not being a post 9/11 Veteran, she said she didn’t realize a service dog was an option for her. Her research yielded Warrior Canine Connection (WCC). It took a while but after applying, Dian was matched with Chuck, or rather, as she says, ‘Chuck picked her’ in February 2020.

Life After Chuck

“He’s been such a blessing, I can’t even begin to tell you how much he’s changed my life,” said Dian. “I wouldn’t go anywhere without a safety, which would mean a friend, so I didn’t leave my house unless I was with one of those 2-3 people, and one of them was my husband, and he’s a firefighter and he works 48 on, 48 off, and he teaches around the country, so I am alone a lot. Then I got Chuck, and I can go anywhere now. I can go to Costco … I can go anywhere, do anything because I have him. Being able to focus on him, helps me deal with my issues.” 

Dian still participates in therapy and says Chuck is the perfect complement to all of them. 

“Because I have Chuck, using the tools I’ve learned from my doctors, coupled together is much more effective,” said Dian. “When I’m stressed, he recognizes that and alerts me by nudging my hand with his nose. If I don’t react to that, he’ll jump up and let me know. We’re just so in-tune with each other.” 

Flying? That wasn’t an option without medication before Chuck. Now, it’s a safe space with him by her side. 

When he’s not working, Dian says Chuck’s a regular dog who enjoys playing with her other two pet dogs, Sawyer and Tallulah. But no matter what, Chuck’s always somewhere nearby. The two can regularly be found at church together, where the duo manages guest services and they also volunteer with another local program that helps others through equine therapy. 

Dian says life is a beautiful journey and that she wouldn’t trade her earlier experiences for the world but that she’s happy to be in a good place — with Chuck right by her side every step of the way. 

You can follow Chuck and Dian’s adventures together on Facebook. This month marks Chuck’s fourth birthday, so be sure to follow along, as Dian promises there will be a celebration complete with homemade doggie cookies and plenty of birthday photos. 

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David and WCC's Quail
David and WCC's Quail

While many of us enjoyed a holiday season surrounded by loved ones, hundreds of thousands of Veterans are still struggling to find a way back “home.” A fear of crowds. Depression. An overwhelming sense of isolation. Recurring nightmares. Unexplained feelings of guilt or resentment. The invisible wounds of war can manifest in various ways, but they all have something in common—the Veteran experiencing them feels isolated from their community and sometimes their families.

For many Veterans struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injuries, they feel disconnected and miss the sense of purpose that Military Service provided. Fortunately for our Nation’s heroes, many are finding an ally to help them reconnect—a furry battle buddy with four paws and a wet nose.

A retired Army Reserve Colonel, David knows the strain of the mental load from combat all too well. Not only did he experience it first-hand during his deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also as a retired VA social worker. With 41 years of military service, David dedicated his life to helping Veterans deal with their own invisible wounds of war—combat stress, battle fatigue, traumatic experiences, grief, loss, anxiety, anger and depression. After suffering his own brain injury in 2015, David knew he needed a partner to help.

In 2019 David received Quail, a yellow Labrador Service Dog, from Warrior Canine Connection (WCC), whom he affectionately calls “Gunny” in a nod to his Marine Corps days. David and Gunny are just one example of the dozens that have made a connection through WCC. Already, WCC has trained and placed 100 assistance dogs, providing all at no cost to wounded Service Members and Veterans.

But Gunny has helped far more Veterans than just Colonel Rabb. Throughout the dog’s two-year training program, WCC enlists wounded Warriors in a therapeutic mission to help train the dogs for fellow disabled Veterans. By doing so, 5,500 wounded Warriors have already received the treatment they need—and deserve—to heal. One in five Veterans is dealing with PTSD. Far too many are taking their lives. Our work is far from done!

Thank you for being an important part of this work to support our nation's wounded Veterans. As you likely already know ... more than just a lovable face, service dogs are an ally on the mission to recovery!

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USA Veteran Brent and WCC Service Dog Tallman
USA Veteran Brent and WCC Service Dog Tallman

Join us in congratulating US Army Veteran SPC Brent and Warrior Canine Connection (WCC) Service Dog Tallman!


WCC’s Tallman was fortunate to have two incredible volunteer Puppy Parents. Kim, Tallman’s Puppy Parent in Maryland shared, “Volunteering for WCC has been an amazing experience. Having been in the program a while and seeing the difference these wonderful dogs make in the lives of a Veteran makes the bitter sweet end of their time with me so rewarding. Training these dogs everyday is a very small way I can thank a veteran for their service and sacrifice.”


“So excited and happy for Tallman,” added Pam another of Tallman’s wonderful Puppy Parents from WCC's site in Asheville, NC. “He will always have a special place in my heart since he was my first Service Dog in Training! He was so laid back but so smart! Watching him train with the Veterans here in Asheville was amazing! He loved them and they loved him,” Pam continued. “One of the most special parts of being a Puppy Parent is when a namesake’s family respond to the social media posts and love seeing the progress the dog makes! I want to wish Tallman and his Veteran years of happiness and love!”


WCC’s Tallman was named in honor of United States Army Sergeant Matthew Tallman. From a young age, SGT Tallman showed an aptitude for all things mechanical. After enlisting in the Army, SGT Tallman trained as a Blackhawk technician. He served as a helicopter mechanic in Afghanistan before being sent to Iraq as a crew chief. SGT Tallman was assigned to the 4th Squadron, 6th U.S. Air Cavalry Regiment, at Fort Lewis, Washington. On August 22, 2007, while on deployment in northern Iraq, SGT Tallman was one of fourteen soldiers killed when their Blackhawk helicopter crashed. He was thirty years old and the father of two. Prior to his death, SGT Tallman applied for a promotion to sergeant. He had hoped to be a guide to young people just entering the service. Posthumously, SGT Tallman was awarded the designation.


Recently, we had the honor of hosting SGT Tallman’s Gold Star Mother at Warrior Canine Connection's Healing Quarters where she was able to meet the dog named for her son and that dog’s forever Veteran. “Although it was emotional at times, I am so glad I pursued having a dog named for Matthew, and making this trip to meet the person he will be helping,” shared Virginia. She continued, “Learning more how the process of selection was done. I know Tallman is right where he needs to be. I know my son is always just “over there” when I need him and it sounds as if he had a hand in choosing just the person who needed him most.”


That person is US Army Veteran SPC Brent. “Dogs can tell when you’re not feeling right, when you’re down and stuff, and a dog’s love is going to overshadow anything of what’s going on,” shared Brent. “You see a dog, you smile because no matter what they bring joy to your heart because there is very little that a dog can do to make you upset. You guys have been a miracle to me…Cause without you guys I don’t know who I would have gone to. And you guys have just been amazing to not only myself, but even my family each time we’ve come up here. I mean I can’t ask for a better pairing. I mean it’s just been great.”


We couldn’t ask for a better pairing either! Congratulations Brent and Service Dog Tallman!

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US Army Veteran and WCC Service Dog Sully
US Army Veteran and WCC Service Dog Sully

In May, the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School honored 29 new members into its Hall of Fame. One Veteran provided a service dog by Warrior Canine Connection was among those selected for this prestigious honor.

Annual inductions are based on accomplishments that include superior valorous combat leadership, superior meritorious service, as well as public- and life-long service to their community and nation. National notable members included in the OCS Hall of Fame are Bob Dole, former Senator from Kansas and presidential candidate; Winthrop Rockefeller, politician; Casper Weinberger, Secretary of Defense; General Tommy Franks, Central Command Commander; and Major Dick Winters from “Band of Brothers”.

Ken grew up in Tippah County, Mississippi, graduated from Falkner High School, then studied at both Mississippi State University and Western Illinois University. He went on to serve in both the Reserve and Active Components with almost 29 years of combined service, including five enlisted as a tank crewman and 24 as a commissioned Engineer Officer. Within that career, he had five combat deployments with almost four cumulative years in combat theaters.

Ken's most recent military service was with the Transatlantic Division (TAD), headquartered in Winchester, Virginia, with USACE theater engineering responsibility for the Central Command Area of Responsibility, from 2016–2019. The positions served were Deputy Commander (Forward), Transatlantic Afghanistan District – Deputy Commander and TAD -Deputy Chief of Staff (G3).

“It’s an incredible honor and a culmination of this career that has helped shape me into who I am today,” said Ken. “I didn’t want to retire, I honestly fought as hard as I could to stay in but due to my injury, I simply couldn’t perform any longer, so I retired five years early.”

During his most recent deployment to Afghanistan in 2017, Ken’s heart stopped causing him to lose consciousness. He fell a distance, broke his jaw, sustained a traumatic brain injury, and lost most of the use of his left foot. He spent more than eight months at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center undergoing four facial reconstruction surgeries, implanted prosthetic jaw and facial bones, lower leg nerve surgery, and receiving an implanted cardiac defibrillator (ICD). Ken then spent three months at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) trying to retrain his brain and body.

While at NICoE, the idea of a service dog was presented to him. Ken says it was an idea he had not even considered. “At that time, I was focused on full recovery and really did not even explore the idea. Little did I know at the time, what a valuable source of recovery a service dog could provide.”

Ken was later transferred to Fort Benning to continue therapy and medically retired from the Army in September 2019.

“I am still going through recovery,” said Ken. “It’s tough going from functioning at a senior level in the military accustomed to a high operational tempo to being dependent on my wife and my family in what seemed like the blink of an eye. It has been a difficult road; however, I am thankful for life. I know everyone’s life journey has difficulties, so it’s not to say mine is any more challenging.”

Ken’s name may be familiar to those in Warrior Canine Connection’s circle, as Ken has WCC’s Sully, a service dog who serves as a vital part of his continued recovery. The duo was paired in July 2020 and has been inseparable since.

“Sully makes a huge, huge difference,” said Ken. “He is with me all the time. I need stabilization assistance quite a bit, and of course, he’s a pretty big dog, so that’s one of his strong suits. Sully very quickly learned my routines, so he knows both my normal routine and my mannerisms. He senses if I’m even needing assistance and before I even make the command, ‘brace’ he’s in position ready to brace; it’s like he’s reading my mind.”

Sully has made himself quite comfortable at the Nance household and has brought a lot of joy to Ken and his family’s lives. Their home is on 20 acres outside Olive Branch, Miss., so Sully gets plenty of time to romp in the yard and the pond.

Even though time has passed, Ken says retired military life is still an ongoing adjustment. He recalls fondly the teamwork, mission focus, and ultimately serving this nation in a capacity that is bigger than oneself.

“It’s almost comical, the first three years of my enlistment, I was determined I would get out at the end of my initial term,” said Ken. “Ironically, twenty-nine years later, I was pushing with determination to stay in!”

It was the Army that provided the structure, education and challenges that Ken craved—and it’s where he excelled.

“The Army assisted me with completing both a bachelor’s and master’s degrees,” said Ken. “It gave me leadership opportunities and surrounded me with the best of the best from American society— those willing to serve our great nation.”

Despite his detoured career and daily challenges, Ken is thankful for all the Army gave him, and he’s honored for his OCS Hall of Fame induction, which took place at Fort Benning on May 17.

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“It brings tears to my eyes how Luke has changed Ryan’s life,” says puppy raiser Laurie Higuera of Napa, CA.

In December 2020, the American Kennel Club bestowed its prestigious Award for Canine Excellence (ACE) on seven-year-old Luke for his work as a service dog for veteran U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant E5 Ryan Garrison. Luke is a handsome black Lab and trained mobility service dog. He was paired with Ryan in 2016 by Warrior Canine Connection and the two have been virtually inseparable ever since.  

“I really can’t say enough about what Warrior Canine Connection and my service dog Luke have done for me,” said Ryan. “Thanks to Luke, my anxiety is under control, I’ve significantly decreased the medication I take, and he’s really helped me with my mobility. It’s not just that though — since being matched with Luke, I have a whole different outlook on life — a positive one.”  

Ryan Garrison enlisted in the U.S. Air Force right after watching the Twin Towers fall on 9/11. He was a self-described floundering fifth-year senior in college working on his third major at the time and was planning on joining the Reserves, but that fateful day compelled him to change his course. He dropped out of school to enlist in the Air Force, where he served until 2016, including three deployments. 

Ryan comes from a family steeped in military tradition: his grandfather was in World War II; his other grandfather — Vietnam; his brother is a Master Sergeant E7 in the Air Force; his uncles and cousins have all served in different branches of the Armed Forces. So, the career move felt like a natural fit for Ryan, only it was shorter lived than originally planned.  

In 2006, Ryan was in Iraq working on the flight line. He was working on the K-loader, essentially a cargo lift, and while inspecting the load, a sheep farmer who had been paid by local insurgents, ran up and shot an RPG over the fence, which hit the K-loader and the blast was so hard, it blew Ryan off the vehicle. He sustained serious injuries, including fractured and torn disks in his back, which have resulted in numerous surgerieschronic pain and anxiety. 

He struggled for years, but after seeing the impact of another WCC service dog paired with a friend, Ryan decided to apply for his own service dog through Warrior Canine Connection. The organization was honored to place Luke with Ryan in 2016.

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Organization Information

Warrior Canine Connection

Location: Boyds, MD - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @WarriorCanineCn
Project Leader:
Jennifer Wilder
Boyds, MD United States
$109,224 raised of $150,000 goal
 
1,236 donations
$40,776 to go
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