It was my third day at the Kurdish camps in Northern Iraq where the Kurds had fled from their homes after having chemical weapons used on them by their leader, Saddam Hussein. We were out on a recon mission to find safe places for the Air Force to drop food, water and blankets to the Kurdish people. We were walking along a path that was thought to be safe when all of a sudden I stepped on a land mine and went flying 6 feet through the air. After I landed I rolled over and checked my right foot as that is what hurt the most and saw that it was gone. I then checked my privates (typical male) when all was intact I proceeded to check my knee, other foot, hands and my body. My major injury was my right foot. I was fully aware what had happened and started treating myself for shock, loosening clothing, raising the wound, etc. All the years of training kick in on auto-pilot.
I spent 12 ½ years in the Army. I joined in 1980 and went into field artillery as a Forward Observer in the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg, NC. I spent 6 years there and then was stationed at Ft. Sill, OK for 1 ½ years when I decided to try out for the Special Forces, more commonly known as the Green Berets. I went through their qualification course at Ft. Bragg and graduated. I was then sent to 10th Special Forces Group at Ft. Devens, MA. That is where I deployed to Operation Desert Storm and Operation Provide Comfort where I had my accident.
I was medically retired from the Army in October, 1992 and moved to Phoenix, AZ with my wife, Renee, and my daughter, Ashley. I was hired by the City of Mesa in January, 1993 and attended the 18 week Phoenix Regional Police Academy. I was the first person in the country to ever attend the Police Academy at entry level with a prosthetic leg. I retired from the City of Mesa in November, 2013 and moved to Whispering Pines, NC with my wife to be near our daughter and 3 grandkids. nce I retired I started to feel a lot of anxiety about everything I had been through and what the future was going to be like. I felt more unsure about my future after retirement than I had after my accident. I don’t think I let myself think about what had happened back then and just dove headlong into being a police officer. I could put my feelings on the back burner while I was enforcing the law and chasing bad guys. Seeing the good and the very bad that comes with the job in law enforcement.
I started playing with the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team in March, 2012. One of the players that joined the team a couple of years ago has a service dog and since I was a dog lover, I always played with her and gave her lots of attention. I have always had dogs but never a service dog who is trained to help a veteran through all types of disabilities. I talked to him about how he got his dog and how I could get one. I felt like a service dog could help me with my anxiety and PTSD.
I met Bob Wendler in Scottsdale, and he put me in touch with Nicole Meadowcroft, president of Custom Canines Service Dog Academy, Inc. out of Madison, WI. Nicole went above and beyond anything I ever expected to get me a service dog. I flew out to Madison at the end of August, 2015 and met my soulmate (besides my wife!). The moment Hazen and I met we bonded as I have never bonded with a dog before. Hazen is an awesome black Labrador Retriever. He is so incredibly smart and the love between us has enhanced my life so much. He goes everywhere with me and brings joy and laughter into my life. He has helped me to get over most of my anxiety. He seems to sense if I am getting tense or anxious and will cuddle with me or lick me or bring one of his toys for me to play tug with him. Hazen has been a Godsend and I can’t thank Nicole Meadowcroft and Custom Canines Service Dog Academy enough. Custom Canines Service Dog Academy cannot exist without the generosity of people willing to support their life enhancing organization. What they do for disabled service veterans is so positive and life changing. It is priceless to be able to give a service dog that will provide the help and the love that disabled vets so desperately need.