Dan and Service Dog Tracker

January 2013
Part of this story is taken from the Stennis News dated March 17, 2009
Navy Lt. j.g. Daniel, a Slidell, Louisiana native was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and Joint Service Commendation Medal for his individual meritorious achievements during combat operations in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Daniel, a Navy Reserve intelligence officer, provided critical evidence for more than 90 Improvised Explosive Device (IED) related cases and was a key player in the apprehension of one of Iraq’s 10 most wanted criminals. Routinely exposed to hostile fire, Daniel directly improved prosecution results and the safety and effectiveness of combat units facing the IED threat through his expert and steadfast actions in the IED fight. In addition to receiving the Bronze Star and Joint Services Commendation Medal, Daniel also received the Joint Services Achievement Medal and Combat Action Ribbon while in Iraq.

And yet, Lt. Daniel, when asked about his life upon returning from combat, says, “I returned from Iraq so many months ago, but I may as well have just stepped off the plane…I never left. I am still in Iraq. I got to Iraq on August 3, 2007, and I can’t come home.

He went on to say, “When I was in Iraq — no matter what was going on, I was NEVER scared. For three straight months, we were attacked with IEDs every day. We were shot at every day. Rockets were launched on us every day. I had convinced myself that I was already dead so there was no reason to be afraid. The bombs and rockets and gunfire aren’t even the most horrifying things I have seen. I returned home from the war on a Wednesday — and Thursday in Sam’s Club I started feeling like someone kicked me in the chest… I have survived 6 bombs, 3 gunshot wounds, and 2 surgeries that almost killed me, but the PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) is what is killing me.

His young son, age 4 at the time of his return, grows older every day and knows that “dad is sad” and “he worries about me”, Daniel says. “I feel like I’m missing my son’s life because I can’t get out of my own head.

While he has been committed to his military-assigned treatment plan, Lt. Daniel hasn’t enjoyed the large quantities of medication prescribed by the military in order to mitigate his Post Traumatic Stress. While he does believe that medication is a key component to helping him cope with PTS, Lt. Daniel doesn’t believe it should be the primary source of his wellness.

So, when his wife read an article on Military.com about service dogs for PTS and shared it with her husband, they began checking out options and found Southeastern Guide Dogs.

Fast forward to January, 2013 — and a beautiful red, sleek Goldador named Tracker. “Belly up” sweet, tail that never stops wagging, eyes that could melt butter, enthusiasm and loyalty equaled only by Underdog himself!

Tears in his eyes when he saw Tracker for the first time, Lt. Daniel managed to whisper, “I don’t know what to say! She looks like…like hope!

Lt. Daniel struggled through many of the initial walks with Tracker, leaning gently on her for physical balance but heavily for emotional support. Going out into his neighborhood or into crowded stores and restaurants was more frightening than facing an IED in Iraq, Daniel communicated one afternoon after a particularly challenging training day. As he was saying this, Tracker rested her head in his lap and, closing her eyes, sighed deeply. Daniel laughed and said to her gently, “but not for you, girl, huh? You got my 6, don’t ya?” And, as if on cue, Tracker sighed again and snuggled closer to her new companion and handler. Then it was Lt. Daniel’s turn to sigh. “I feel like I have been sick since I came home from Iraq and this is the first thing that I am doing for me. She needs me as much as I need her — and I won’t let her down. We’re going to do this together step by step, aren’t we, Tracker?” And, again, as if on cue, Tracker, with eyes closed and not moving from her handler’s lap, made no move at all — except for the gentle thump, thump, thump of her tail on the floor.

Hope. For Lt. Daniel and his family, hope is now a part of their collective future thanks to Tracker and Southeastern Guide Dogs. The journey into wellness continues — and for Lt. Daniel, it continues with hope and enthusiasm in the form of four paws padding gently beside him.