Interview with a Wounded Warrior
Published in the DUTY issue
Will + Jack Daniels
Will dropped 30 feet, breaking his neck and both legs.
As you can imagine, he also hit his head, which resulted in a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). After 26 years in the navy, Will was injured on board the carrier USS Enterprise when a storm hit the ship as it was docked in Norfolk. He was crossing the brow as the ship pushed away from the pier when the brow collapsed. His right leg was crushed. After 20-some surgeries and four years later, he was still in constant pain and his mobility was severely limited—Will made the decision to have his leg amputated after watching the paralympics. He’d always been athletic and couldn’t play sports with his leg as it was. Will believes having his leg amputated was one of the best decisions he’s ever made, as it has opened up so many doors and let him re-engage in sports. But he is still left with both visible and invisible wounds.
Two years ago, Will was in Kentucky helping a farmer harvest tobacco to return a favor. On his way to the farm, he noticed a house with three German Shepherds in the yard. Will stopped in to meet them. “Jack was the first to come up and put his hands on my shoulders and lick me in the face.” Jack had been rescued from a situation where he was in a crate almost all day. Will asked the couple who rescued him if they minded if Jack rode to the farm with him. Will and Jack rode back and forth to the farm together for two weeks. After the two weeks, Will got the nerve to ask if Jack could spend the night. They said, absolutely! So Will and Jack watched movies together and hung out in Will’s RV. “He laid his head on my shoulder and that was it. We were bound at the heart from that point.”
Will adopted Jack and back home to Memphis the boys went together! During the time Jack was being trained at West Tennessee Canine to be a PTSD dog, his trainer found out that he also has the innate ability to alert to emotional situations. “Just today, we were in the gym and, although Jack was paying attention to me, he kept alerting to Paul, a fellow wounded warrior. He’d lift his head and just stare at Paul. He was saying, Dad … there’s something wrong with that guy. So, I took Jack over, and we found out he was having a bad day. Jack laid down next to Paul, put his head on his shoulder, and licked Paul’s face. Jack could sense the difference in emotion, and knew exactly what Paul needed.”
What does Jack mean to you?
Will became emotional and unable to speak for several moments when asked this question. “Jack means the difference between staying alive and not. He’s given me so much more than I’ve given him. He’s given me a reason to get up in the morning. He inspires me to get out and re-integrate into society. He’s become a permanent fixture in my heart. There’s no doubt about it—he saved my life.
Jack is with me 24/7. I feel like I’m not fully dressed if I don’t have him beside me. The psychological support and the friendship that he offers is incredibly satisfying. And to know he will take care of me and love me unconditionally is comforting.”
What do you wish people knew?
“I wish people knew how much service dogs mean to their owners—how in the darkest of times a service dog can convey love that can bring them back from the deepest darkest places. People need to know that a service dog isn’t a dog … but an extension of that human being’s persona. Service dog fraud upsets me. People who order a ten-dollar vest online just so they can take their dog with them places invalidates the reason behind the program.”
When are you most proud of Jack?
“Every day of my life. Just to see his calming nature and to see what he can do for myself and others—he came from being a farm dog to an instrument in saving lives.”
When are you most proud of yourself?
Will struggled to try and talk through strong emotion, “Every day that I can wake up and realize that I came close several times to not being here, and realizing that I’m far stronger than I gave myself credit. Each day that we face a new day, we get stronger and are better because of it. I can’t let my injury define me. I may have to put parts on in the morning, but I’m still the same guy they rolled into the ER. It’s not how hard you fall … it’s what you do when you stand back up that makes a difference. •
If you’d like to volunteer your time locally in training a puppy for a Wounded Warrior, please contact K9 for Warriors—they’re looking for puppy-raisers! Please share these stories to educate those around you about the different needs a service dog may provide for visible or invisible wounds.