Jon and Jaeger

Jon and Jaeger.jpg

 

As the manuscript for Hope Has a Cold Nose continues in its progression, I continue to be equally blessed to listen to extraordinary stories of veterans who have found healing on their journeys with pain, trauma, sorrow, and despair.  That healing has been significantly aided by a soul with paws, fur, and a cold nose.

It is my privilege to provide you another excerpt from Hope Has a Cold Nose.  It is my honor to introduce you to Jon and Jaeger.   Once you read their extraordinary story, please then visit https://thejaegerfoundation.org/.    Pain is Purposeful Action Initiating Next – Author Unknown

JON AND JAEGER

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. – Pablo Picasso

Hey dad, tell me the story again, will you please? How your heart called out to me before we would physically meet.   I especially love the part when I came to your side without you beckoning.   How my heart knew it had found where it belonged as soon as I sat paws to your feet.  

 I’m a lover, not a fighter, as you and I both know. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy in my first home. Yet, my purpose wasn’t to be a protector in a K9 guard kind of way. I was meant to be a shield to keep anxiousness at bay. Dad, I think I’m a chip off the ole’ block in having a destiny to try and stop the bleeding.   Though you began fulfilling your calling for patients with physical injuries, now both of us have a mission to stop the invisible flow before a heart stops its rhythmic beat.

Dad, I am always so proud of you when you tell me your stories, about how saving someone from dying was your number one priority.   Dad, I also wish, too, there was more I could do besides listen, snuggle closer, and catch your tears of grief.   I know, I know dad, and I believe you when you tell me how much I help you in those moments you feel hopelessness and are afraid. Yet, because I love you with all my heart, I still wish there was more I could do to take your sorrow away.  

Dad, can I tell you a secret, between you and me? It makes me feel really special that you named your Foundation after me. I mean, shucks dad, you didn’t have to, and its not that I needed to be in the limelight or famous in any way. Its just that because I know how much this foundation means to you, I feel very honored that you thought that much of me to make the foundation my namesake.   I guess we both understand unconditional love in a very deep way.

I certainly don’t begin to measure up to my God given name most days.   I am one of the most imperfect beings who wakes each morning praying I will be stronger than the fears I face. My name means “gift from God”, though I certainly don’t know about all of that. If I can live my life fulfilling even an ounce of that meaning, I will consider myself humbly blessed.

I am grateful to my mother – and not just for this gracious name she gave me. I am grateful to my mother for opening my eyes and my heart to a desire for helping others in need. My mom’s career was in Special Education, providing opportunity for some of the most extraordinary and unique friendships I would have while growing up.   This would teach me that some individuals need others to look out for them because their capabilities may be deemed as inadequate or not enough.   Perhaps this experience came first or perhaps this experience opened my heart to its calling. Either way, a life commitment to stand up for and to help others who cannot easily or fully help themselves is what fulfills me.

I’ve debated where to begin my story. Should I start with how I met hope in the form of fur and a cold nose, aka. Jaeger, who you already started to meet?   Or should I start with the oath I made to serve, protect, and give my all for my country?   One thing I know for certain is what isn’t necessary.   The play by play details of life in combat is not what you need to read.   What is most relevant – and what I believe can help my brothers and sisters in uniform – whether Marine, soldier, police officer, fire fighter, or EMT – is a glimpse into one’s heart who now finds themselves walking with PTSD.

I’ve shared with you my passion to help those who struggle to fully help themselves thanks to my mother and her students with special needs.   My father was also an influencer in my desire to help others when they are in crisis or experiencing a significant emergency. My dad was a firefighter when September 11, 2001 rained evil action on our country.   To witness the toll on firefighters like my father grabbed a hold of my heartstrings. The strings were tugged tighter thinking of innocent lives victimized at the hands of extremists both in the United States and in other countries.   Many helpless individuals didn’t have people taking a stand for them is what I strongly believed.

I joined the Navy because I loved all whom I had at home. My parents, my siblings, my extended family, friends, and people I didn’t know. Perhaps as a reader, you have a perception that someone joins because they loved to play Cops and Robbers as a child, to be a hero, or they can’t wait to shoot a gun and “get rid of the bad guy”.   None of these were my motivators – in fact, I will share with you a conversation between my staff sergeant and I.

It was my first week of training as a combat medic with the Marines when I had a weapon put in my hand and was ordered to point down range.   My immediate response to my staff sergeant was no thanks.   After all, I had joined the Navy to become a greenside corpsman with the Marines; my ultimate goal was to be a combat medic saving lives whenever the need. Staff Sergeant, I’m not here to hurt people, if I may respectfully say.   Of which he responded in turn this way. Marine, whatever you need to tell yourself, do so immediately. If you want to save your brothers, then you must be prepared to take down the enemy. Think of it as preventative maintenance so that you don’t have to patch up a Marine in the first place.   If you don’t learn to shoot first, you risk the Marines you aspire to save go home in a body bag.

In his words was a wisdom I realized I needed to internalize.   Effectively knowing how to use a weapon was part of being able to save my Marine families’ lives. I believe that many brothers and sisters I served with signed up not for heroism nor because of some kind of superman or wonder woman attitude.   Many choose to sign up to stand up for something more important than themselves no matter the personal cost or what they may lose.

No matter the personal cost or what they may lose…every day the reality of this can be hard to push through.   I am a husband, father, son, friend, cousin, uncle, neighbor, church member, to name a few.   I am the person I was before I served in combat, the person everyone sent prayers for while I was deployed overseas. And yet, I am also no longer the same person as I was before Doc, no matter how hard I try or want to be. I struggle as I want to be who you remember was once me, and I struggle to be who I am now for fear you won’t accept who I can no longer be.

I think worse sometimes than deployment memories that want to rewind and replay, is the guilt I feel that because of my choice to enlist my children and wife also experience emotional pain. Life teaches us through opposites, that constant tug and pull between extremes. I joined the service so that I could keep safe those I love the most – my family. And now that I am home, I often feel those whom I am hurting the most are those who I wanted most to keep in safe keep.

Granted, I wasn’t married to my beautiful wife at the point I enlisted in the Navy.   When I became Doc, my “better half” was those I served with as a combat medic with the Marines. Yet, now I am a father of four, and a husband to, quite frankly a saint who has the ability to not take some of my actions personally.   Yet, when I see fear or hurt flash through my children or wife’s eyes, my heart is crushed by the weight of my choice when enlisting. Though I knowingly knew the risk I might suffer post combat, I realize my choice has a ripple effect far greater than me. My wife and my children also suffer each time PTSD tries to put me in a tight squeeze.

I had one goal when I was deployed and that was that no life would be lost under my watch as a combat medic. I am gratefully and humbly proud to say, that was a goal I was able to achieve.   I owe not only God, but a special little girl for the gift she gave me.   This special little girl taught me what a precious commodity life is and that we always have two choices we can make.   Life will bring us to crossroads in big and in small ways. Sometimes it is a life changing event, like it was with this special little girl I knew only briefly.   Sometimes it is several times in a day to keep fear and hopeless from their relentless knocking.

I was working in an ICU in North Carolina, a new medic with an eagerness for learning.   When the ICU had no patients on a particular day, I requested emergency room duty. After all, I wanted to be the very best life saver I could be! In that way that we are shown God will bring us the people we need in our lives at the right time, I was meant to be in the ER on this specific night.

A little girl was brought into the ER with 75% of her body covered in burns allegedly at the hands of those who are supposed to keep children safe and cherished.   Though this special little girl couldn’t experience either outside the ER, under my watch both safety and love she would receive.   The degree of a burn is critical, don’t misunderstand me. Assessing if first second, or third is certainly top priority. But there is also another key component that is paramount to staying alive.   It is all hands-on deck to ensure no infection sets into skin that has been so severely compromised.

When one is serving in a medical or first responder field, there is one driving force that guides every decision made.   Damn any statistics, damn any graveness you might see and face. You will do whatever you can to fight for someone’s survival no matter how bleak things may seem. I would say that if someone is serving in a medical field and they begin to discern based on statistics that indicate probability, it is time for a person to walk away from the field or at least pause until their heart gets back in the driver’s seat.

This special little girl with burns covering the majority of her body was now bringing opportunity for my first experience in a raging war zone.   Though it wasn’t a war with artillery fire, it was a fight against evilness and death standing at the door. We stabilized this tiny body that was wrapping a fighting spirit so very tightly. We ensured she was in a sterile room, with a ventilator to aid her breathing.

I returned to my barracks after what had been three days of twelve-hour shifts, preparing for my two-day rest and reprieve.   Of course, these two days off were not for play as doing nothing felt like idleness to me. I would normally take those two days off to work as a first responder, ever vigilant within me was listening for someone struggling and in need. But anyway, back to this special little girl who was in dire emergency. When your purpose in life is to serve others whole-heartedly, you listen to that inner whisper when it begins to scream do not sleep.   There was a little girl in a hospital room alone except for the medical staff and a social worker who would be checking on her periodically.   I did not want this little girl to lay in that bed having only felt unconditional love fleetingly.   I needed to be beside her so that she would know the feelings of love and safety.

Because of the critical requirement for sterility, I couldn’t sleep in the same room with her, but I could be in the next room available in a moment’s need.   Like a parent – or a Marine – who sleeps with one ear listening, this little girl could trust I had her back while she was sleeping. The primary medical doctor of our hospital came to communicate I did not have to stay. He could see in my eyes and hear in my voice my heart was firmly rooted in place. Without any additional words, he understood I was right where I needed to be as he gave me his knowing head nod and a simply stated okay.

On the second day word had spread to the commanding officer the vigil I was keeping. That earned me a visit, which is a privilege because a commanding officer making an appearance in ICU is a rarity.   Determination and compassion are a powerful duet; the commanding officer can affirm these combined can make one strongly adamant.   He was ordering me to get some sleep for that was not what I had been doing. I was respectfully letting him know I was not leaving.   Not toe to toe and chest to chest as movies like to portray. Heart to heart in a room next to a little girl who was beginning to die, this commander officer and I compromised for her sake. Sir, with all due respect, I will not leave her side. I want her to leave this Earth having known what love feels like. I know she has nurses who are caring for her oh, so gently.   I was one of the first people she could feel safe with after such cruelty. I want to help her as she dies to know that she was worthy.   Please sir, let me stay to be present when her hearts stops beating.

Jacobs, you will not be any good to her if you don’t get two hours rest; that is all I am asking of you.   It is an order, medic and then you can be with her until the mission is through.

Hearts can hear each other across space, at least that is how I believe. This little girl knew I had her back, so she waited before her soul decided it was time to leave. I rested two hours and then I heard the monitors begin to speak. It is time kind Doc for me to go to a better place.   Don’t worry, I am no longer afraid. Thank you for your part on my journey in this life. I am grateful to you for being by my side.  

There is a process medical staff go through after someone has passed – because you don’t need specific details, I will call it post-mortem care of the body.   After I completed these steps, then, and only then, did I allow the questioning.   On the smoke deck of the hospital I asked – no, I demanded to know – Why? Why, God! I hurled these words into the sky. The answer didn’t come immediately, as our greatest wisdom often comes only after hindsight.

I am not sure the impact to my number one priority if I had not crossed paths with this special little girl whose purpose was to teach me. If I had not witnessed what a lost soul can cruelly do when it lashes out at innocence and I had not walked beside death and grief, I am not sure how engrained my mission would have been within me to ensure it was one I achieve.   I would like to think my servant-heart to help others and my value of humanity would have given me the same deep-seeded drive to have none of my brothers or sisters lose their lives.   Yet, because I also believe we must know one extreme to know the other, I know this little girl was very influential in ensuring all whom I served as Doc came back alive.

Whether a medic in the military, a civilian medic, or a first responder accountable to save lives, each of us has that defining moment in which a heart is not destined to continue breathing. Oh, and then how the mind loves to step in and question everything.   Did I do enough, did I do the right things? Why couldn’t I save this person; I think I now doubt what I have believed. We are angry and we step to the edge where we question if we should quit what we signed up to do.   Remember that crossroads I mentioned up above, where we stand poised with two paths to choose?

In the darkest moments of our grief and self-doubt and anger raging I don’t understand why, is when we are giving a choice to make the loss matter by how we choose to step towards light. I will bring all my Marines home alive, this I vow to do! Dear little angel, your death was not in vain and I am most grateful for you.   You taught me that evil is a fact of life and isn’t something we can eradicate in entirety.   It may not make sense, but suffering is a necessity. What matters is not if we can stop evil, but how we can overcome or move through what suffering brings. We can’t get over it, but we can move through it and turn it into positivity. What is truly important is the good we make out of the pain and tragedy.   Dear special little girl, much good came out of yours, and it is continuing. For the rest of my life your life will have meaning.

I would like to share with you about a training experience I went through in an effort to bring understanding to what veterans feel when they return from deployment to civilian life. It may still be hard to fully grasp, but my best I will try. I took part in a simulation of what it would be like when I found myself in Iraq as a combat medic with the Marines. Think desert – Mohave to be specific, think dark of night, and think night vision goggles to help you see. Also think about what it would be like to go outside without the lights of the neighborhood around you, one eye blindfolded, wearing one hundred pounds on your back while carrying another hundred pounds of medical gear for responding to emergency.   I will also share, adrenalin from simulated yells and screams and only seeing with one eye in the night puts a whole new spin on depth perception where you are walking.

In the first simulated round I missed a step while exiting a seven-ton vehicle earning me a landing directly on my back.   To say it hurt wouldn’t begin to describe the pain that coursed through muscles and parts of my body I never knew I had!   Yet, what kicked into gear because of my additional training, and because of my personal standards and beliefs, I must not be taken out of this simulation for to do so would admit I was weak. If I admitted I was weak, my fellow Marines would lose faith in me. They could not afford to start distrusting I have their backs – they need to be able to count on me! After all, we are a team! I have a mission to fulfill – no lives lost on my watch, and that mission I WILL achieve! Suck it up, the pain will subside, you have been through worse things. Come on Doc, get back in that simulation and show your team they can count on you no matter the chaos happening. The need to know they can trust you unconditionally. These the words I continued repeating.

If you are reading this and you are a veteran or still on active duty, I know you can relate to this mental toughness you live and breathe. If it seems hard to understand, think about someone you love dearly like a child or a best friend who you strive to please. Perhaps you have said to someone there is nothing I wouldn’t do for you. Or when you watch your child, you sometimes are so overwhelmed with love you know you would lay down your own life for theirs if you had to.   That depth of caring for the well-being of those we love is the degree of determination and will that fuel a serviceman or servicewoman no matter how hard it might physically seem.   We want to come back alive to you and we want to return to you in one piece, and we know those we are fighting beside wish the same thing. We will do anything we can for each other to ensure your family does not become fragmented and incomplete. We need to push through any split second we perceive weakness is trying to knock so that we survive the times of intense uncertainty. In life and death situations, there is ample space for acting from the heart, but there is no room for being weak. Because there is nothing we wouldn’t do for YOU, who to us are our everything.

We bring this mindset – and the experiences in which we needed to draw upon this mindset – back to you, our families. We miss those who we served beside – being without our brothers and sisters is extremely lonely. Please forgive me for saying that because we know you are there for us and that we are not alone.   It’s just that, well, it’s just not always easy once we return home.

We are replaying and trying to process through so many memories. Not all of them are bad, either, contrary to what you may think. Have you ever had a time in which you had an experience – let’s keep it positive and talk about the birth of a child or a wedding day – and you feel like you are on a cloud and the rest of the world is far away?   You struggle to describe your euphoria when talking to a friend who isn’t a parent or married – there just isn’t adequate words to convey.   You find it easier not to try, and there is a certain sacredness to keeping your feelings tucked away.

It is similar when veterans return to civilian life and their friends and families.   There is this place we are in emotionally that feels far away from where we now find ourselves physically.   We also are still carrying the trained mindset to protect you from things we’ve experienced and seen. And deeper still is the engrained training that brought us home to you still in control of how we think. We are not weak, and cannot be weak, and will fail if we start to show that we are becoming weak, for all of you we have been fighting for need to trust we have your backs no matter the intense uncertainty.   IT IS the difference between life or death our certainty! See, that is the thing about training for life or death and how the human brain becomes the exceptional student in its mastery.   Even when it is no longer life or death, our brains hold tight to what we have taught it such that this mindset does not leave.

And though I struggle to retrain this mindset on my journey with PTSD, I will also tell you I am grateful that it is etched into an essence of me. For it is this training that has helped me win the three-year war against Leukemia that threatened to be a life thief. Dear Leukemia, you can try to take me to my core with your evil poisonous cells, but you will not succeed. For I have my wife, my children, and medical staff who have my back – they have most definitely got me!   You can try to steal hope from me, thinking you are victorious when I cannot become a civilian firefighter or EMT because of my compromised immunity.   But there is something you underestimated when you began attacking me! I will find other ways to serve those in need even if I can’t do so with tangible bandages, physical tourniquets, or tanks of water to douse a burning flame.   The ones who now need me to fight for them don’t have visible wounds or noticeable fires anyway.   It is the cries of souls that now need me to stop the bleeding of their will power that is rapidly washing away.   They need compassion, and hope, and help in the form of a lifeline. They need to trust someone has their back and will not leave their side.   So, Leukemia, you are not stronger than me!   And if you have any doubts, I dare you to take it up with those who keep watch of me. No one stands a chance thinking they are mightier than my dear wife, Kelly.

I will tell people the secret to our marriage can be summed up into one word and one word alone.   Shear stubbornness is a strong foundation that my wife equally knows. I have a fierce determination, but let me tell you, my wife can hold her own, too.   She is tiny in stature, but she is powerfully large in what she sets her mind to do.   In that way that I mentioned above how God puts people into our lives at the right time, this is certainly true for when Kelly re-entered mine. I had known my wife when we were in middle school, though we were in two different circles – think I was so not in her league! Don’t get me wrong – I don’t say that because Kelly was snobby or stuck up or any of those things. I say that with complete admiration that this once chess champion is married to someone who was a model and a beauty pageant queen.

Fast forward to my return from deployment and Kelly experienced working as a tutor for veterans journeying with PTSD. A social media message to reconnect, a detour to work due to construction, and yes, the rest became history. Both of us joined together with a foundation of stubbornness, and a common understanding. Kelly knows her own journey with PTSD on this side of enemy lines, so she can empathize when my pain and trauma begin to rise in visibility. Let me tell you, though, I can’t shake the guilt I feel that she must put up with me. I know, she’d yell right now if she heard me say it this way – that she is putting up with me and my fears and anxiety.   It is just so hard sometimes to see her and my sons’ eyes when I’m struggling to “right-side” my mind’s thinking.   I want to maintain their innocence and let my children be kids laughing and shouting in playful glee. PTSD is not singular even if it is one person’s journey. It ripples and cascades and it…bleeds. I made the choice, not my children nor my wife – they don’t deserve putting up with my hypervigilance and anxiety.

And just like Jaeger, who gently touches me when I can feel anxiety rising high, I am gently touched by the fierce love of my wife.   She will say in a way to get me to laugh and shake off the guilt I carry heavier than that hundred-pound gear I used to wear as a medic: I’ve torn up the marriage certificate so good luck returning me without a receipt!

I am almost to the point in my story where I will share more about Jaeger with you. First, I need to tell you about another dear soul who is guiding what I do. I proudly served beside one of the finest Marines and gentleman you could ever meet. He was a wise old soul who only ever raised one thing; never his voice, and only a positive attitude with each day’s greeting. He was one of my Marines, one I vowed I would bring home safely to his family.   I can still see the smile he always wore, never a time I can’t remember him not smiling no matter how tough the moments of war. A fine Marine and gentleman that I was privileged to fulfill my promise to bring him home alive.   I even have his initials right here on my arm – B.G. – as a way of keeping him by my side. Not that I need a tattoo to keep him close to me.   He has left footprints on my heart that will never fade or leave.

I will not have the honor of walking beside him on this Earth again, though I’d give much to see his smile light up a room. B.G. reached the end of hope a few months after we returned from deployment, his life at his own hands ending too soon.   I didn’t see it coming, in case you were wondering.   I guess it goes to show there is always more to someone’s story then what we may perceive.

I knew it was so very hard and very lonely stepping off the plane without my brothers after we had spent time immersed in death and life. I didn’t realize that it was even harder for a fellow comrade and friend who is no gone at the hands of suicide.   You know how I mentioned up above about the human brain and its learning? I still felt responsible for B.G. though we were no longer deployed together as one team. He was my Marine, my responsibility and somehow, I missed the signs! What did I miss and what should I have seen so that B.G. would not desire to end his life?   Oh, Guilt, now you are knocking like a vampire that wants to suck the life force from my veins!   How could I have failed B.G. by bringing him home whole and safe? What kind of life did I bring him home to if he felt so afraid? I brought him back to a torment that was more brutal than the enemy fire that could get aimed our way.   Dear B.G., I’m sorry I let you down by not keeping your demons at bay.

Since I didn’t see it coming that B.G. was struggling so to choose life, I’m not sure what B.G. felt and can only imagine what was storming in his mind. He didn’t want to appear weak, after all he is the one always smiling. What would his family and those he served with think if he said hey, man, I have these images that won’t leave me in peace? I’m thinking it might be easier to shut them off by permanently going to sleep. He would see the fear in the eyes of whomever he told this to. And once he introduced doubt, then loss of trust with follow suit. And once loss of trust, then those he had vowed to keep safe would now fear he no longer had their back. And if they were now afraid, they could be vulnerable in an attack. If they weren’t up to par, he would be compromising their lives, too. He could keep everyone safe best by ending his own life before he caused others harm or death too soon.

At least I anticipate that was what his mind may have been saying and the risk that others would think he was selfish was far less than the risk they would not be safe. In his mind it was a selfless act for his loved ones’ sake.   I miss you man, every day I wake up and know you are not going to answer the phone if I ring. I wish I had heard your heart when it was struggling. Damn, I was so in-tune to watch out for you if you would sustain a physical injury!   I completely missed that when the artillery fire went quiet, you were at the greatest risk of bleeding to death internally. B.G., I’m sorry, man, I’m really sorry.   You were on my watch for life, and I didn’t keep my vigil for you. I hope you can forgive me as slowly, oh so slowly, I’m learning to also do. I think you would be happy at the mission I’m now focusing on. I’m going to make it matter the life you lived B.G. – your legacy of the fine Marine and man you were, are, and will always be will live on.

I may make you gasp and shake your head when I tell you that I wish I could go back to war some days.   During the war there was black and white and no grey. There was control and order and such things as procedures that guided rules of engaging and when to escalate force concisely and orderly.   I knew what to do when a weapon or bone broke and how to immediately bring calm in emergency.   I knew who needed urgent care and who only had a surface wound that a bandage would suffice. I knew how to encourage or motivate when someone was homesick or missing their wife.   Now I’m not in war and everything around me is grey. I can’t reach for gauze or a tourniquet when my son has his first girl crush heartbreak. I feel helpless when I have to let my son go through and grow through the down moments of life. I feel like a failure when I get in an argument with my wife.   I was trained to repair tangible things, things I could physically touch and see. It is oh so very hard to know how to heal the essence of what enables us to live and breathe.   Sometimes I’m not sure how to help my heart stop bleeding its grief.

Every day I dig deep to overcome the fear that wants to grip every inch of my insides. Come on heart, it’s okay, we’ve got this, breathe.   That’s it, deeply in, deeply out, repeat, repeat. Feel that nudge under your hand and that tap at your knee. He’s here to help you find a steady rhythm again so all you have to do is breathe in, out, and repeat. There, the anxiousness is subsiding isn’t it? The fear is taking a time out, releasing its menacing grip. Hand, reach out and feel his fur and other hand motion for him to come to your lap if that can help, too.   Eyes, you can stay closed if you want to. Feel his warmth and hear his heart whispering to you. He’s got your back every step of the way. Ah, yes, heart, here we take another step forward today.

I believe it is a song by Chumbawamba in which the lyrics include “I get knocked down, but I get up again” that could be words written about me. I have known the depths of despair and hopelessness but stronger in me is fulfilling my destiny.   My heart is a medic, firefighter, and EMT, yet I am being given signs from God that He now wants me to help in healing those whose wounds society cannot visibility see.   I’ll tell you sometimes I wish His signs weren’t so bold, like Leukemia, but hey, I also trust He knows my heart and what is best for me.

I say a prayer of thanks every day for not only the life He has given me and the family and friends, too.   When I was nearing the end of my faith, He held my hand through all the dead-end avenues. As He held my hand, he sent Earth angels to do the same physically. Before Jaeger, hope came in the form of a mentor, and soon-to-become best friend, who met me at the lowest valley – or perhaps I should say the highest edge I stood at precariously.   At the height of my pain, trauma, sorrow, and despair, standing beside me was someone I had known but had never fully seen.   Son, I do not walk in your shoes, but I understand your anxiety, pain, and grief.   Let’s get you away from the edge, you don’t need to leap. My stepfather, a Vietnam veteran, whose quiet demeanor was one of the overarching themes to my youth, was now the one to do what he also did exceptionally well, which was fiercely protect his brood.

Jaeger has given me purpose to rise each day. My wife and my children are also the reasons I keep stepping forward through the suffering and pain. My stepfather is the reason I am here for my dear wife, my children, Jaeger, and the foundation mission to aid others on their healing journeys.   If it wasn’t for my stepfather…well, I don’t want to dwell on what might – or might not have been, for what matters is what is currently happening. I’ll just simply say, someone who is now one of my closest friends pulled me back from the depths of PTSD.

We don’t always see that when we keep receiving no after no, it is because we are being redirected to something much bigger and better than we know. I explored VA programs for a service dog only to have that not be budget nor time friendly. Astonishing costs and a long waiting list do not lend to immediate nor affordable availability.   It became a dangerous spiral down the more I tried to hold on tight; the more I tried to find a service dog, the more I found no hope in sight.

Until a local business founded by a retired Airforce K9 handler became my lifeline. A willingness to train a dog for a cost more in the range of possibility I was being guided to find. This handler knew someone who had a dog for me to meet.   A meeting was arranged at Pet Smart and it was an instant connectivity.   Jaeger and I were now this Airforce handler’s trainees. Now the next step was to obtain funding.

God wasn’t done bringing His greater plan together for He had additional people I was meant to meet. On a random day at a not frequented store my path would intersect with a President of an organization interested in providing funding. Jaeger and I now had everything we needed to become a formal team.

Fast forward to today, and this tribe of “helpers” have aided Jaeger and I in crystallizing our purpose into a reality.   The Jaeger Foundation is now an approved non-profit entity. Our mission is to provide funding for veterans and first responders who will benefit from canine hope. To aid others in obtaining service dogs is mine and Jaeger’s WILL BE achieved goal.

God heard me in those moments I cried There is no help! I cannot believe there is no help for people in need! In these moments what I wasn’t hearing yet was that God was responding. Jon, my son, I hear your cries. Trust I have sent you as a gift to the world to save lives. In order for you to do the job I have given you to the best of your abilities, I need you to have a sound understanding. Because you know the depths of hopelessness you can empathize. Because you know what it is to feel alone, you will be a steadiness at others’ sides. Because you have known fear and a waning will to keep going, you will be hear the hearts that are crying out silently. You will ensure that others do not hang up a phone wishing the person on the other end could help ease their agony. You cry out that people don’t have someone to turn to. Dear Jon, they do for I have sent them you.

It is hard for me to hear that for I am not sure I am worthy of His faith, for what I am best at is being so imperfectly me. Yet, to save lives when they are experiencing emergency is my reason for being. I guess I’ll end my story here, but I would like to share one more thing. When I have to tell you not to pet my service dog, please know telling you no is not easy. I love animals, too. And I would love for you and your children to be able to snuggle against Jaeger as I get to do.   Yet, he has a job to perform when he is beside me, and distractions impact him being able to do so to the best of his ability.   If you see someone with a dog and the dog is wearing a vest marked “service”, your kind smile is welcome as you let us pass on by. Know that we will be able to feel your compassion and care even if we don’t stop to say Hi.

What is it Jaeger? What are you thinking?  

That I’m proud of you dad, for sharing your story.   Hey, um, dad, about that special little girl when you were first a medic?

Yes, what about her Jaeger? You know you can ask me anything.

It’s not so much a question as a thought I had that may sound silly. You know how you think of me as a kid in a fur coat for that is the depth of your love for me? What if this special little girl was a canine in skin, so to speak? What I mean is that I think – actually I know I would have really liked her for she sounds like she had an ability similar to me. She could hear hearts speak without words; unconditional she was in her listening.   I can’t help thinking she wasn’t harboring anger or judgment at what had happened for her heart was pure in its love. Like me, something deep within her knew she had been sent from above.  

As the quote reads from an unknown author “Kindly the Father said to him, I’ve left you to the end. I’ve turned my own name around and called you Dog, my friend”.   I think perhaps God whispered the following to this special little girl the day she took her first breath. He wanted her to know that He gave special jobs to the best. “You, special angel will help someone save many lives as a result of meeting you. Trust how much I will love you in the pain you will go through. Your life on Earth will be shorter than some but your light will shine brightly as if you lived to be one-hundred-and three.   Thank you for your willingness to make the world a better place my special angel. God speed.”

Dad, we are lovers of humans and we are fighters, too! We are fighters for the human soul to keep pushing through. Like you I wish I could remove suffering, but then again, we probably wouldn’t be the dynamic team we are if people weren’t internally hurting.  

Hey dad, two more things.

I got your back. Trust me.

It is my honor to fulfill my mission and vow I have made. That you will find peace at home and many more lives to save.

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