What I remember about September 11th was the silence. Americans stood collectively silent; stunned that such a savage act could be perpetrated on American soil. Two thousand nine hundred and seventy-two Americans died for the crime of going to work that day. As we watched the smoking towers, the people jumping to their deaths and then the collapse, of both Towers….I remember…our sons and daughters were young…full of life with all that our Country has to offer ahead of them. But many of the 18 and 19 year olds who were old enough to understand the depth of this attack proceeded to the nearest recruiter and signed up. They didn’t have any idea what they were signing up for…but they would do whatever was asked of them…they wanted to let terrorists know…we don’t cower.
Ten plus years have passed. Many of these young men and women are now 28 to early thirties. Many are even younger having waited until finishing high school or signing up during the initial stages of the Iraq war. Too many of them have been on multiple deployments…have forged strong friendships only to see their friends die in combat…or to sift through a pile of rubble from an IED blast and find a baby’s shoe. The life ahead of them does not seem so promising from their perspective.
To survive and fight a war in a foreign place where the rules of engagement are not in their favor, where every decision must be processed and weighed: the desire to live against criminal charges for a crime That kind of thought process under the stress of being fired upon turns the mind into a state of hypervigilism that few people can understand…unless you’ve been there. To be there once and to return home and find that “home” is no longer “normal” exacerbates a sense of loss. Things have changed, life has moved on for those who stayed behind…so...its back for another deployment where things are “normal.” Eventually multiple deployments take a toll…the price paid with nightmares, flashbacks, emotional distance, anger, traumatic brain injury issues, and sometimes divorce. Alone, whether with family or not, the warrior fights an unseen battle, the rules of engagement even fuzzier. It is so difficult to tell someone what you’ve done, what you’ve seen and admit that it bothers you. The warrior struggles with remembering and re-experiencing especially if he or she has lost a friend or soldiers they were responsible for during combat. The guilt creates the self-doubt…it leads to depression and a desire to just get away from it…at all costs.
We lose 18 warriors a day to suicide across the Nation. And maybe we can’t help everyone, even if we do all that we can. But it is unacceptable not to try, especially when therapy comes with fur and 4 paws.
I remember…all the dogs of my life. Not a one was unworthy of being loved, not a one gave anything less than 100% devotion. I remember them all.
K9 Soldiers, Inc. has implemented a program to help our physically and emotionally wounded warriors regain a sense of peace with the Canine Battle Buddy Program. Warriors referred to our program must enroll in college level canine care and training courses through Harcum College. Upon completion they attend a hands on Practicum learning all of the on and off leash obedience commands. Then its time to take a trip to the Mall and restaurant where the warrior learns to maneuver in a public space with an ADA (Americans with Disabilities) service dog. Upon satisfactory completion (and if the match was made in Heaven, which they always are) the warrior may take the dog as his or her canine battle buddy home, paid for by the charity. In addition we offer the warrior a program to engage in with their battle buddy…the first U.S. Veterans Tracking Competition Team. Our veterans will compete locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. It is for sponsorship of this team that we are raising money. We want to be able to provide all the experiences for those warriors at no cost to them…we need to raise $150,000 to kick off the team effort. So, every bit helps us towards our goal. If a dog can tether a warrior until he or she figures it all out…we’ve made a dent in the I.O.U. we owe to those that went where we would not.
I remember…the first time I gave a canine battle buddy to a warrior. Trying to remember where I knew him from distracted me, he looked so familiar. I admit that I was more than a little awed by this 26-year-old Bronze Star with Valor. I gave him a dog that was a natural healer…he had been rescued not once but twice from certain death himself. As I watched the young man play with the dog, I looked at his pickup truck with the volunteer firefighter license plate, I checked out his jeans and Cartthart jacket, his John Deere hat, his engaging shy smile. Then I remembered… I was looking at every mother’s son…I was looking at America and what makes it great. A farm boy... who walked the same dirt as the kid from the mean streets... or the young woman who dreamed of serving as an officer in the military. Yep, I remember now…God bless America and God bless our men and women who serve her.
Please consider walking, running or sponsoring Canine Battle Buddies as they participate in STEPS TOGETHER. All donations are tax deductible and should be made payable to K9 Soldiers, Inc.