Several years ago, this man worked security in California. A former warrior, he spent his days watching, guarding and waiting. If those passing by knew his past, some might have saluted him.
A German Shepard by the name of Mama sat by his side, the loyalty between them almost visible as Mama's ears perked up as another stranger passed by. Their combined vigilance served as both a testament to the job and to each other.
The former security guard's name is Brian Schneider, and he used to be a Marine who is now on his way to graduating from Warrior Salute™, a service of CDS Monarch helping to rehabilitate veterans.
Brian served two tours in Fallujah, Iraq from 2003 to 2007, after which he returned home to be greeted by symptoms of PTSD.
"I had a lot of depression," Brian said as Mama lay by his side, sleeping. "Anger. Anxiety--a lot of anger and rage. Headaches."
Brian lived with a family in California when he happened upon a dogfight. Mama and a malamute were tearing into each other. Brian stopped the fight, but Mama was in bad shape. "She came right to me," Brian said as he reflected back upon the fight. With bloody gashes on her back, he rushed her off to get the help she needed.
With Mama on the mend after extensive surgery, it wasn't long before they became inseparable, and soon after began working security. "Being attentive to her has helped me take care of myself better."
However, Brian had a life waiting for him back in New York. With a daughter soon to be born, he knew he had to get back, and there was no way Mama wasn't going with him. He just had to find a way to get her back to New York.
So he had her examined to become a service dog. She already had the training from working security, so after having Brian's PTSD verified with the military and getting Mama a personality check and some vaccinations they were good to go.
"She's a hell of a dog," Brian said. "As soon as we started traveling she knew it was her and I. It's amazing I can tell how much she counts on me."
"There's been a lot of ups and downs," Brian said, Mama still sleeping soundly by his side. "Fighting the everyday fight. Rib shot after rib shot."
Now that Brian had his companion, and she was cleared to travel with him, they just had to get back to New York. "I called the airline and told them I had a dog, and they asked me if it was a little one I could put under the seat." Brian laughed. "I told them, 'No, it's a one-hundred pound German Shepard'. They ended up giving us a whole row to ourselves. She's so well behaved."
Flash forward to the end of September. Brian's been out of the Marines for seven years and his beautiful baby girl is finally here, but due to relationship complications he wasn't able to see her. Not long after, Brian loses his apartment and crashes his car. "There's been a lot of ups and downs," Brian said, Mama still sleeping soundly by his side. "Fighting the everyday fight. Rib shot after rib shot."
"Everything was a good fit to come to this program," Brian said. Everything added up. "It's definitely a blessing finding this place."
Everything was crashing down around him, so he went to Clear Path for Veterans in Chittenango where he met a Marine with the Wounded Warrior Regiment. After being homeless for a while, he was at his wits end. So the Marine told him about Warrior Salute™. Brian called and talked to the staff who had him come in for an interview. "Everything was a good fit to come here," Brian said. Everything added up. "It's definitely a blessing finding this place."
As part of the services provided by Warrior Salute™, Brian and Mama moved into the Nucor House, a free, 14-bed transitional home where veterans receive 24/7 support and consistent clinical services.
"The services are personalized, which is great," Brian said. He began taking art and music therapy to help get a handle on his emotions. "I came in pissed off one day and did a paint throw." Brian heaved paint at a canvas, unleashing his emotions. "At the end of it I felt calm," Brian said. "That was the first time I noticed that it was therapeutic for me." Brian said he wants to complete a piece about a combat scene he doesn't like to talk about; something he'll pursue even after he's finished receiving services. "Gonna help me get grounded. Stay on my feet."
Brian even landed a job working at Lowes through Warrior Salute™ vocational services, which led to him getting a job with a contractor. Since he has made so much progress, he only has to attend Warrior Salute™ services once a week, allowing him to work so he can save up for an apartment and a car.
His family has also seen improvements, which has enabled him to see his daughter. He's even gotten ahold of his sobriety. "I learned a lot about myself being sober," Brian said.
With life shaping up again, Brian keeps a smile on his face. "Dog is man's best friend," he said. "In the past I might not give a crap about myself so much. No matter what you always have to feel connected to what's real." And what's real to Brian is Mama. "She always knows what's going on. Helps keep me calm in a situation where I feel like I have to act. Helps keep me humble.
"[She's] protective of the baby--protective of me. I'm the one voice she'll listen to all the time. She's a one-person dog."
But, things still don't come without their challenges. "People think she's a seeing eye dog. People ask me what she's for--randomly." But Brian doesn't let that get to him. "I try to educate them. Tell them to look up why people have service dogs."
Brian finished the interview with a strong handshake and a big smile. Mama waited patiently, loyally by his side. Although beneath Brian's flesh lingers those experiences that shaped him into something he never wanted to be, Mama bears a similar burden. Her scar from that dogfight has since grown over with fur, but certainly those memories still remain. Perhaps Mama is, like Brian, also living with PTSD. However, it's those experiences--those individual moments in life when we feel scared and alone, like we have to fight for our lives with no help from the outside--that forge unbreakable bonds when we inexplicably happen upon the right companion.
That's what Brian and Mama share. And that will always be what matters.