main story image for facebook sharing

Around The Fleet

Camaraderie of the Furry Kind:

Service dogs bring support to 2017 Warrior Games

The 2017 Warrior Games brought together more than 260 service members from across the military, as well as our brothers and sisters in arms from the United Kingdom and Australia.

While family, friends and other service members accompanied competitors to cheer them on, several athletes brought companions of a different sort: service dogs.

More than a pet, more than a furry friend, service dogs are family to these warriors. They provide support in many ways, from assistance with daily tasks such as retrieving dropped items and turning lights on or off, to being their people's eyes. They can also bring much needed relief and support when it comes to the invisible wounds of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression.

"She knows if I'm having like a trigger or if I'm starting to get worked up," said retired Information Systems Technician 1st Class Ryan Shannon of his service dog, Chelsea. "Being able to pet her, it takes me out of the moment when things start getting bad."

Chelsea, an American bulldog-mix, has faithfully been by Shannon's side for three years. Easily spotted in her bright pink vest (because she is often mistaken for a boy without it), she has provided Shannon with tranquility and support.

Then there's Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Ron Condrey, who soared into the opening ceremonies with his faithful companion, Via, a Belgian Malinois. Condrey recently retired from the Navy after 25 years of faithful service, and received Via as his service dog just weeks ago. With more than 5,000 skydiving jumps to his record, Condrey taught Via to be his partner in the air, not just on the ground.

The jump into the stadium was Via's fourth with Condrey. She showed no fear as they sailed to the ground at Soldier Field.

"Service dogs are invaluable in helping warriors with the daily struggles they go through," said Condrey. "Whether it's physical, mental [or] psychological, the canine is there to help in every facet, from physical companion to emotional regulation."

Via also helped Condrey navigate the Warrior Games when he got overwhelmed, and she helps wake him when he over sleeps due to his medication.

Condrey and the rest of Team Navy were joined by members of a fellow sea service, the U.S. Coast Guard. A rare genetic neurological disorder diagnosis forced Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Rob Troha to retire after 13 years in the Coast Guard. As he watched his motor skills deteriorate, Troha felt like he lost his identity. But the arrival of his service dog, Gauge, has helped him reestablish a new sense of self.

"He is my mobility animal, and dogs are 100 percent objective," said Troha. "They are very loving creatures, and I believe that dogs have soul."

These warriors and their service dogs are just a few of the pairs that were at the Warrior Games, and an even smaller portion of the thousands of service dogs across the country. They faithfully serve their people, peoplewho served our country in times of peace and times of war.
Many of the athletes who are assisted by a service dog told fellow competitors that getting a service dog isn't a sign of weakness, but an extension of regaining or develop more independence.

Retired Navy Airman Brett Parks, a former Warrior Games competitor, served as an athlete ambassador during this year's games. Parks not only endorses adaptive sports for service members but also recommends service dogs to assist them. Parks was there to cheer on his shipmates with his faithful service dog Freedom, a white standard poodle, easily spotted with his red, white and blue mohawk.

Freedom gave Parks his independence back. Parks, who lost his right leg after intervening in an armed robbery outside his gym in 2012, put his name on a two-year wait list to be paired with a dog. Freedom helps Parks not only with his PTSD, but with tasks such as retrieving items like a phone or keys, and helps him get up if he falls.

"Freedom is a part of me and I him," said Parks. "So, I encourage you to get a service dog and stick with him or her."

Parks said that just like any relationship, there's a settling in period upon getting a dog. There's a lot of stress because now you can't just worry about yourself and your surroundings. Now you'll have to worry about a companion that's going to be with you at all times.

"But, once you figure out how to live, work and travel with your service dog, you wonder how you lived life without him/her," said Parks. "Freedom and I have had our ups and downs, but I wouldn't trade him for the world.
With a laugh, Parks said that no matter how stupid or how alone he may feel Freedom is the only thing in this world that's always there, showing him unconditional love.

*Editor's Note*
Shannon Collins, a Department of Defense writer, contributed to this story.

Read about the 2017 Warrior Games Wrap Up here:
link to Warrior Games Wrap Up