The veteran seated across from me was a California boy, son of a retired Navy Seabee chief, when the jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center. The next year, he enlisted in the Navy and went on to serve aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
Work on the flight deck of a carrier is an intricate dance with many partners, each with a critical part to play. They dress in various colored shirts that announce their roles. The choreography is exacting: One misstep is one too many.
There are few places more hazardous than the deck of a carrier launching and landing warplanes with high winds, jet wash, whirring propellers, and cables crisscrossing, stretching and recovering under extreme tension. Heat, rain, heaving seas, the constant moving of aircraft and exhaustion can all combine to cause one minor mistake with major disastrous — and potentially deadly — results. Sailors missing legs from duty on the flight deck were once as common as channel markers.
Marshal did not get away from there without paying his dues. His feet were injured. A container of acid exploded and left burns on his chest. His hearing was not helped, and tinnitus is always present.
Marshal gives the impression of competence, awareness and interest in not only his situation but the world around him. What brought him to my attention as a Disabled American Veterans service officer is that one of our members met him at the Post Falls Food Bank, where he works as a volunteer. It turns out that he is living on $550 in Social Security and just over $250 in VA disability. He had a five-year tour in Iraq as a contracted dog handler. He deployed with various Army units and his dogs were tactical assault and explosive detection K-9s.
Marshal went to school in Canada to train with his dogs. He was able to take them home with him. Mordo was a Belgian Melanois and was unfortunately run over on a farm in New England. Storm was a Dutch Shepherd with him in Iraq from 2002 to 2008. Storm died here in Post Falls on 8 October of cancer, just two days after Marshal’s birthday. The vet had reduced the bill to a bare minimum but Marshal still owed over $1,800. Although he had almost no money, Marshal still made small monthly payments. And that is when we found out about the situation.
DAV Chapter 9 voted to pay one-half of the bill. Marshal is a disabled veteran and, although Storm was not a military working dog, he did spend his working life protecting our soldiers in a place of extreme danger and discomfort. Storm should be put to rest with honor and respect. Marshal will get the payments made no matter how long it takes.
Marshal did not ask for help. Marshal’s third working dog, Jack, another Dutch Shepherd, has a tumor in his chest, quite similar to what Storm had and that distresses Marshal even more.
The good news doesn’t end there. The VA had sent Marshal to a contract doctor to help him with his hormonal imbalances. This timely assistance seems to be successful, but in the course of testing an unusual growth has been found in the brain, perplexing his civilian doctor. He needs referral to a specialist. The civilian doctor, not being a VA doctor, cannot do the referral and there is no procedure for notifying a responsible VA caregiver and ensuring that the care is handed off.
Marshal has been in Iraq, Egypt, Germany and Bosnia in support of American forces. But he is not simply a dog handler. He learned to speak fluent Arabic, a tremendous accomplishment all by itself. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas and has an M.A. in Government, but his medical condition keeps him from seeking employment. Last November, Marshal was sleeping in his pickup in the parking lot of the American Legion. Now he has a roof over his head.
On this Veterans Day, if you would like to do more than say “thank you for your service,” I would like to invite you to make a donation to DAV Chapter 9 to pay for Storm’s medical bill, to help Marshal, and to help care for Jack. It is tax-deductible and you will immediately receive a letterhead thank-you and receipt.
We will first apply all the money received to pay the rest of the vet bill for Storm. Second, we will give any additional donations to Marshal for living expenses and to help him get ahead. I know he will use any additional money on medical care for Jack.
Please make checks payable to DAV 9 and send them to: Robert Hunt, 2536 W. Falling Star Loop, Post Falls, ID 83854; 208-773-1074; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marshal will never ask for what I am asking you for. If only a few respond, the amount of assistance can mount up very fast and it is a true gift from the heart that does good.
I leave you with this thought:
How many American men and women serving the Colors at some isolated outpost or road block are home today with all their limbs intact thanks to Storm, Mordo and Jack? Thank goodness that their handlers have such loyalty to these wonderful animals. They need to be laid to rest with dignity and deep respect.
• • •
Bob Hunt is a resident of Post Falls.