Combat Veteran DL brings both laughter and strength to the world around him, but his rock is his Northwest Battle Buddies service dog, Atlas.
“I was matched with Atlas last July, in the height of the pandemic. The first time I met him was a complete rush — this big chocolate lab bounded over to me and just melted my heart. I’d been alone for a long time, with my kids thousands of miles away and no real family nearby except the few friends I’ve chosen to let into my inner world. Before Atlas, it was so hard to live like this. I felt anxious, and angry, and it was really lonely. But now, with my service dog, everything is different.
Atlas is my constant companion — I’m no longer alone, and I don’t have to navigate the world without a partner. We’re never apart. I can trust him to pay attention to what’s happening around us when we leave the house, and he keeps me calmer in almost every situation. My nights can still get bad, but he helps with nightmares too — he’ll lay against me and lick me, wake me up, and pull me out of it, back to the present. And with Atlas, my days are finally — livable. Life is a whole lot better. I’ve gained the courage to go more places now, because with him, I’m no longer as hypervigilant and tunnel-visioned. He brings a sense of normalcy to everyday life. My dog has a calming presence that allows me to interact with the world around me and with other people, to enjoy them, and give my best to them — and that means the world to me.
I’ve always been someone who cares deeply. In the military, I was a medic. Serving and having kids changed me — I realized I needed to be the change I wanted to see in the world. I wanted to do what I can to affect change for others and create a better world for my children. But, trying to do that after coming home — it’s been hard sometimes for me to be the man I wanted to be.
Helping others is my passion, and Atlas makes it possible for me to do that. By keeping me calm and centered, I can focus on other people instead of just how I feel. I can key into what they need and help them out where I can. It makes my journey easier, knowing that others’ journeys are made a little easier by my influence. At a surface level, the gifts I give to others are simple — my smile, jokes, and likable nature. But I’ve learned that those simple things can ease tension and make people feel better, more at peace — just like Atlas does for me. Atlas makes me a better person. And the responsibility of caring for him is one more reminder of the value of things around me.
Service dogs can be the difference between life and death. I’ve listened to stories from other Veterans, and I hear the pain in their voices, see it in their eyes. As an empathetic person, I feel their pain almost like it’s my own. And having the presence of a service dog to help buffer those feelings of pain — it’s powerful.
Life is still hard for me, with PTSD and living 2,200 miles away from my children. On a good day, I am majorly depressed. On a bad day, there’s no telling what might happen. I have to take care of Atlas because he deserves it, and to do that, I have to take care of myself. He’s a constant reminder that others depend on me — my dog and my kids. That reminder makes me a better person, a better friend, and a better father. My dog gives me something to smile about every single day — dogs do so much more for us than we give them credit for. Atlas gives me the strength to reach out to other Veterans and make their day just a little better, too, hopefully, give them something to smile about when they might not have had any of those bright moments before. Little things that are actually pretty big — that makes all the difference.”
When we first met DL it was very similar to meeting other Veterans at the beginning of the 5 weeks of training. He was polite, apprehensive, and full of uncertainty mixed with determination. Quickly as the process started to unfold, I saw DL rise-up as a leader in the group. Even though he had his own challenges, it never stopped him from making sure everyone else was “good.” He was always an encourager and somewhat protector to the other Veterans.
You would never know the anxieties he was facing personally; he was focused on serving his brothers and sisters in arms. After graduating, DL and Atlas together continue to serve his fellow NWBB teammates. DL has proven to be a great asset to all who know him.
Joining Operation Never Quit is an opportunity to say “Thank You,” not only for our freedom, but for the sacrifice our Veterans continue to endure.
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