A naval career touched by history
Nathan did not grow up planning to join the military, but as he says, “life has a funny way of working itself out.” In 2006, he was living with friends near the University of Kansas, during which time one of them enlisted in the Navy. Later, that same friend invited Nathan to work out at the gym with a Navy recruiter, and Nathan peppered the recruiter with questions about careers in the Navy.
By the end of the workout, Nathan was determined to join the Navy and subsequently decided to become an aviation ordnanceman, a specialist responsible for handling weapons and ammunition loaded on Navy fighter jets, like the F/A-18’s flown by the Blue Angels. After a year of weapons loading school, Nathan was assigned to a squadron attached to the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and later to the USS Carl Vinson.
The young sailor deployed twice to the Middle East. Near the end of his second deployment, Nathan and the rest of the crew of the USS Carl Vinson played a historical role in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. After SEAL Team Six located and killed bin Laden in Pakistan, the infamous terrorist’s body was transferred to the USS Carl Vinson for burial at sea.
Doing his part to keep other service members alive
Thanks to the Navy, Nathan has seen more of the world than he has of his own country.
While Middle East deployments lasted two to three months at a time, the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson each spent about 18 months traveling to and from the Middle East. Nathan enjoyed port calls in Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates, among other places.
While he has no specific favorite aspect about his service, Nathan felt a strong sense of purpose about his duties as an aviation ordnanceman. During their deployments, his squadron flew numerous combat air patrols for 10-12 hours a day over Pakistan and Afghanistan. Protecting ground troops in the area was their priority. When the squadron’s jets returned with only air-to-air missiles still loaded at the end of their sorties, Nathan felt good about his work.
“I felt a sense of accomplishment,” he says, “that [our squadron] had made sure another serviceman was going to make it home alive.”
Nathan’s most memorable moment during his Navy service reinforced this sense of purpose. During the last months of his tour, the young sailor served as a command representative to the honor guard at Naval Air Station Lemoore near Fresno, California.
One day he was assigned to present the American flag to the widow at a serviceman’s funeral.
As Nathan bent down to present the flag, he learned the widow was only 19 years old and expecting her first child. That sobering moment validated his duties as an ordnanceman, helping to protect ground troops in combat.
Abandoned with pups, Bloodhound longs for a place to call home
After the Navy, Nathan moved back to Leavenworth, Kansas with his wife, an animal biologist, and their mini Australian shepherd. One day they visited a community fair and stopped by a table manned by the Leavenworth County Humane Society. Upon learning that Nathan is a veteran, the LCHS representatives told him about Pets for Patriots and its mission to save shelter pets who have a hard time being adopted due to age, size or special needs. With his interest piqued, Nathan asked to be contacted when a qualifying pet entered the shelter.
Shortly thereafter, LCHS contacted Nathan about a young bloodhound named Lulu, who had been abandoned with her litter of three pups. While the puppies all found homes, Lulu remained homeless.
Having grown up with a Beagle-Basset Hound mix, Nathan wanted to own another hound someday and felt he owed it to Lulu to give her a chance. He and his wife decided to foster her for a weekend to see how things would work out. Fortunately, the big hound fit in with the two-legged members Nathan’s household, and – after a while – the resident four-legged member as well: “brother” dog, Moose.
Once adopted, Lulu was renamed Sammi Lew, and the activity level in Nathan’s home has ramped up to “high energy.”
“Sammi Lew does not fit the lazy hound stereotype,” says the Navy veteran. “She’s rambunctious, loves to run around, and acts as if she’s enjoying everything for the first time.”
A sweet dog, Sammi Lew “also makes us appreciate the little things in life, like all the couch space we used to have,” adds Nathan with a chuckle.
Adult pets are “well worth it”
Nathan advises those considering adopting pet adoption not to disregard mature shelter pets. Since Sammi Lew appeared to have received little training from her previous owners, Nathan and his wife have invested considerable time, effort and other resources into the three year-old hound, but feel their investment is well worth it.
“When you change [a shelter pet’s] life for the better, they’ll do the same for yours.”
Nathan feels that Pets for Patriots helped him help save Sammi Lew by making pet adoption more affordable, and thereby making the decision easier to bring Sammi Lew into his life.
“Pets for Patriots’ application process was super-easy, and the gift card we received upon adoption helped pay for six large bags of high-quality, grain-free food for Sammi Lew.”
But the Navy veteran believes that the benefits of adopting through Pets for Patriots go beyond the monetary support.
“[It] kills two birds with one stone,” Nathan observes, “a veteran who wants the company of someone not necessarily human finds it, and a homeless shelter pet finds a new home.”
Have you ever given a mature pet a new leash on life?