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Veterans

A veteran’s best friend

Ceremony unites Marines, canines

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CARBONDALE — Friday night in the gym of the Vine Church saw few dry eyes and many standing ovations as four Marine Corps veterans received service dogs during This Able Veteran’s annual graduation ceremony.

The veterans, who suffer from traumatic injuries including post-traumatic stress disorder, each embraced This Able Veteran founder, president and lead trainer Behesha Doan as they received their dogs.

More than 600,000 veterans return from war suffering from mental trauma. Everyday things most people take for granted —going shopping, to a ballgame, to class, to dinner — are things they often can-not do.

As Doan explained to the crowd of hundreds, most drivers might see a dead animal by the roadside and think, “What a shame.” But a combat vet with PTSD might see an IED, improvised explosive device, that could kill him and those around him.

An underpass might seem to most a moment in traffic; to a suffering vet, it could represent the last place he’ll ever enter.

The cereal aisle of a grocery store is a non-event for most. For someone with PTSD, it becomes a ques-tion of getting over the barrier on either side should he not be able to exit the aisle.

None of the Marines — not a Vietnam veteran coping for 40 years or a young man home from Afghani-stan who is at heart still a boy — know when the triggers will come.

But, Doan explained, trauma is seriously short of muscle when it meets the soft muzzle of a loving dog.

There is something about a dog, she and other speakers said, that can reach deep into the heart and awaken a part once thought dead.

And the ability to care, to feel and to love brings back the warrior, who leads again when his dog is anxious or uncertain.

In return, he gains not only a friend who will always love him for who he is, but one who can stop an impending panic attack, interrupt a nightmare, retrieve an object or support a physically weakened side.

The veteran, and those who love him, often find the soldier or Marine is finally and entirely home again — in himself, in his family and in his surroundings.

During emotional evening, perhaps no moment was more moving than when Doan dismissed the graduates and the men and dogs walking confidently down the center aisle to cheers and a long standing ovation.

“Thank you, for protecting me so I could sleep at night,” Doan said from the stage.

Graduating vets and dogs were:

• Lance Cpl. Eric Calley with Liberty.

• Lance Cpl. David MacArthur with Dilylah

• Sgt. Steve Medders with Gypsy.

• Lance Cpl. Jerome Smith with Joey.

Program graduate Lance Cpl. Joseph Carter also was recognized.

mark.fitton@thesouther.com

618-351-5807

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