We’ve come together from all over this great land. Some of my peers look as if though they’ve never seen a haircut, while others, they look like they’ve just returned home from the day spa. A few of the stragglers, I question their age, and do their parents even know they’re here?
“I’m new,” I quickly say to a group of strangers that have come to greet me. Circling my position, the large one leans in close; maybe a little too close. He says nothing, and in an instant, he and his friends are gone. That was weird!
Focused on putting myself out there, I make a move to greet some of the others. Sprawled in the shade of a not too distant fir tree lounges a character seemingly larger than life. Letting my curiosity get the best of me, I casually jog over to say hello.
Cruising across the open field, I can’t help but take note of all the others enjoying the sunshine. With the sun warming my soul, I am feeling overwhelmingly grateful. We’ve been chosen to be here. You see, we’re here for training camp. The best part, I am told, I get to spend the next few weeks with a Hero. They haven’t told us who yet, but I’ve already begun dreaming up scenarios.
Seated across the room, I feel as if though peace talks are in order. Positioned atop my rack, I consult the contents of my suitcase. Is this what five weeks of life looks like? Glancing over the gear list, nothing stands out. I’ve got what I need. It’s not our first time heading down range into unknown territory.
Feeling anxious, I drop a knee on my bulging suitcase and quickly secure the double-locking zipper. Turning to my six to eyeball the clock, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. “Pay attention,” I say; there’s no second look.
Sweat begins to accumulate on my forehead and I’m instantly regretting my layered approach to today’s forecast. Rapidly pulling on the neck of my cotton tee, I manage to briefly cool myself. “You’ve got this,” I silently think to myself, and then nod as if that affirmation came from above. I turn back to grab my trash and slowly lift it from the rack. As if though teaching a class on stalking & hunting, I silently leave the room, securing the hatch behind me, ensuring not even the latch bolt makes a sound.
Heading down the stairs, I bearhug my suitcase and immediately feel like I’m boarding an aircraft; my heart begins to race. I hit the bottom of the stairs like I’m taking ‘the x’. “Big pivot, kick left”, I mumble, as I curb check my suitcase and daypack by the front door. I then make a bee-line for the kitchen. Neatly placed from left to right are my two-ounce portafilter, steel tamper, hand grinder and freshly roasted beans. This makes sense.
Every Hero has a story and every story has a hero. As of the date of this publication, 144 stories have been created, and it has been nothing short of beautiful. For me, beauty transpires at the intersection of a veteran and dog.
These Veterans, they are the men and women that have fought for the greatest nation in the world. A nation where twenty times a day, a Veteran takes their own life…… That equates to seven-thousand three-hundred lost lives, per year. Meanwhile, the casualty rate in combat is one-and-a-half times a day. So, Veterans are fourteen times more likely to lose their life here at home due to PTSD than they are when faced with direct combat. Doesn’t that alarm you?
Northwest Battle Buddies was created out of a love for God, Family and Country.
As Americans, we have the benefit of the American Dream, and we owe that to our Veterans. Simply put, our organization’s mission is to provide service dogs to veterans with PTSD, at no charge to the veteran.
Having observed my father’s struggles, and me growing up and coping with gaining an understanding for what he went through as a veteran, this fueled my desire to serve our veterans in a major way. Through our work with Veterans, we are able to help bring awareness to the invisible wounds of war that are so misunderstood — it’s important to understand that Veterans have literally been changed by their service. Having been forged by the dynamics of that service, many have been trained to blend in with their surroundings, and at times, disappear. Some even assume the mindset of “we don’t have a reason to struggle because we look okay” therefore help is never sought out, and worse becomes worse, and so on.
Personally, I’ve been taught that freedom isn’t free. I learned this from a young age where my father’s leadership and passion for service to our country helped shape who I am today as an American, and a businesswoman. Having spent the greater part of my life as a professional dog trainer, I’ve come to know with great affection what it is to build and share a bond with man’s best friend, and what that bond can really do for one’s psychology and physiology.
Many of you reading this, you’re snuggled up with you pal now. For it is that bond we yearn for; that undying connection that warms our soul. It’s that timely, wet nuzzle or pawed swipe that greets your attention. There’s much more to our furry friends, you know. As simple as it is, dogs offer therapy.
Now, at this culminating point in my life, I find myself at a new intersection; one with our current mission in full swing and so much else is in limbo. Having faced the reality of COVID along with the rest of the globe, our usual source for monetary support in the form of outside donations and grants have all but dried up. Most notably, our 2020 Freedom Gala was cancelled, an event that typically raises some $200,000 in donations. As a result of planning and continued fallout associated with COVID, we’ve had to cancel the 2021 Freedom Gala as well, but are hopeful for May of 2022. I share insight into the financial distress of our situation to shed light on our determination and focus, one dedicated to serving the American Veteran.
Mindset. It’s true what they say, you know. With the mentality assumed to tackle “whatever comes next”, we’ve maintained operations and focus true to our mission, for our Veterans are our mission in action. They are our hope.
Service dogs require training, and training requires serious time and financial investment. You’re an athlete you understand this. At a rough cost of $25,000 per dog, we had a full queue of dogs trained and ready to serve the 2020 season. As a result of the immediate financial burden realized by the pandemic, we had to sell thirteen of our dogs to stay afloat and pushed back a few training classes while logistics and partnerships were realigned.
Having been blessed with an amazing business partner in Ovie Muntean, Northwest Battle Buddies has continued to fight the good fight. Living the American Dream, acting upon applied faith, Ovie’s story of coming to America and his own father’s commitment to his family shall serve as a reminder of what some will do to experience freedom that so many take for granted. Today, Ovie’s success in real estate and mortgage banking have allowed NWBB to thrive in support of our mission. While employees took no salaries and part-time workers were forced to volunteer their time, the 2020 year hardly skipped a beat.
So what does a dog do for the Veteran? Dogs have long been dubbed man’s best friend, and for good reason. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and their varying traits and natural characteristics are what make them so special. It is on these characteristics that dogs are linked with their future owner, and a mutually beneficial relationship formed between dog & veteran. A bond that’s capable of a lifetime. The tasks that our dogs are trained to do include: acting as a social barrier, waking up Veterans from nightmares, helping to stop panic attacks and flashbacks, and other adrenaline fueled scenarios. The dog’s ability to sense these instances allows for a momentary interruption that’s conducive with bringing the Veteran of that negative moment much faster. The idea of a battle buddy stems from connection to service and protection of one another.
Did you know that at the DNA level, wolves and dogs are 98% identical. The connection to wolf and warrior is one that draws a parallel in me. A dog’s ability to sense what is seen or not heard by us humans is next level, and that comes from centuries of hunting, living and being with man (and woman, of course).
Northwest Battle Buddy PTSD service dogs alert when a Veteran begins experience anxiety or fear. I’ve watched as Veterans have experienced a rollercoaster of emotions only to be rescued by the response of their battle buddy. Our service dogs inject strength into a moment that would have otherwise brought about a fight or flight response fueled by PTSD. A response that we believe saves lives. Studies show that both dog and human have oxytocin release when dog and human interact via petting session. So it’s safe to say that we encourage lots of petting.
NWBB belongs to the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans. The length of training that our dogs and veterans go through — I don’t know of any organization that spends as much time with the veterans and dogs. Our core program consists of the following:
5 week program – 5 hours a day, 5 days a week.
Weeks 1 & 2
125 hours with NWBB + Dog instructional teaching and training. Discussed Lessons Learned. Unmet expectations. Unexpected triumphs. Night terrors. Constant persistence reassurance.
Weeks 3, 4, 5
48 hours 1:1 time doing public access work
Upon passing testing, they are a qualified service dog team and the Veteran is gifted their service dog. The service dog is a life-changing gift to a veteran with PTSD. We will go to the ends of the earth for someone, but they have to want to do it themselves. To date, 144 teams have graduated our program. Each time a new class pick-up, returning graduates offer inspiration and hope to new attendees. It’s the Veterans that have already graduated that really make it special. It’s all about those relationships. It’s all about community.
We never want to come across as saying “we know what it’s like to be you”, but through the 144 Veterans graduated through our program, we have gained a perspective of the culture. You have to celebrate the triumphs for the ones that have continued the fight. For us, it’s humbling to be trusted.
Join us in the fight to bring recognition and awareness to Veterans and PTSD.
Our service to our country continues today, and we’re proud to support Northwest Battle Buddies in their endeavor as they too continue to fight the good fight as a gleaming example of selfless service and the power of a dedicated mindset. Stay Hungry!