NEWS | Dec. 2, 2011

A Warrior's Best Friend

By Airman 1st Class Tom Brading Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

They are often called, "Man's best friend." However, to some disabled warriors, they are much more.

There are many organizations around the country that understand the instinctive bond dogs have with their human counterparts and train to help people with various disabilities.

"Carolina Canines for Service" is a national program that provides disabled Veterans with quality, trained service dogs. The program is designed to work with military prisoners at the Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston to train dogs, many of which have been rescued from local shelters.
The dogs accompany and provide help to warriors who were injured while serving their country.

One of those injured warriors is Marine Cpl. David Donchess, assigned to Wounded Warrior Battalion East at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Donchess, who received the Purple Heart for injuries he sustained, received a three and a half year-old black lab mix, Ruth, from CCFS at NAVCONBRIG Charleston Dec. 1.

Donchess deployed twice to Helmand Providence in Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, where he specialized in rockets and demolition.

In March 2010, less than four months into his second deployment, while driving a seven-ton truck, an Improvised Explosive Device detonated beneath the five-year veteran's vehicle.

The incident left Donchess with multiple injuries. Receiving his new companion dog, Ruth, has left Donchess optimistic about the future.

"It is a great feeling to have Ruth," said Donchess. "I'm looking forward to returning to the Wounded Warrior Battalion and helping the other men and women get through what I've been through."

Donchess is the most recent Carolina Canine placement story. Since the program's inception, 14 other warriors have received service dogs valued at more than $40,000 each. As of July 2010, the program has provided $400,000 worth of services to Veterans.

(Retired) Army Capt. Leslie Smith was the guest speaker at the ceremony.

Smith contracted a blood disorder while on duty in Bosnia in 2002, resulting in her left leg being amputated. She also lost vision in her left eye. After beginning to lose vision in her right eye, she was declared legally blind.

According to Smith, her yellow lab, Issac, has enhanced her life from the moment he arrived. He has given her mental and physical support.

"The day I got Issac," said Smith. "I felt like a child on Christmas. I thought to myself, 'There's my dog. He'll help me.'"

"Sometimes whenever I would cry, Issac would walk up and lick away my tears, and I knew everything was going to be okay," said Smith.

Issac has continued helping Smith from day one and is also a great travelling companion.

Smith travels extensively on behalf of organizations such as Wounded Warrior Project, Iraq Star Foundation, Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2), Operation Heroes and Disabled Sports USA.

"Issac gives me the freedom and strength to continue my life," said Smith.