After three combat tours in Iraq, a Bronze Star Army veteran becomes a hero of a different stripe: to an adult dog who would become his new battle buddy as he transitioned to civilian life.
Inspired to service by Vietnam War POW
During nearly a decade of service, Chris traveled the world. Originally from Oklahoma, the young Army veteran started his military career at Fort Carson, Colorado with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 4th Infantry Division (ID). Over the years he would deploy to the Middle East, and serve in more than a dozen countries around the globe before finishing his career stateside.
“I completed three combat deployments to Iraq with the 4th ID,” Chris says, “and became a Bronze Star recipient in 2008.”
Chris saw the world while serving in the Army, but the inspiration to serve came from a place much closer to his home – and his heart.
“My grandfather was a Vietnam veteran and POW (Prisoner of War),” Chris says. “He was one of the smartest men I knew, my best friend and my hero, so naturally I wanted to follow his footsteps.”
In July 2011, Chris accepted a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) to MacDill Air Force Base (AFB) in Tampa, Florida, where he finished his military career by working in Protective Services for the United States Central Command (CENTCOM).
Pizza, pepperoni and pals
There is little doubt that Chris’ years of service, including three combat tours to Iraq, provided many memorable experiences. Despite enduring the brutality of war, the Army veteran chooses to remember a more comical moment of his nearly ten-year military career.
Chris and three coworkers were passing through Istanbul, Turkey. Their flight was not until the following morning, so they stayed overnight in the city at a hotel within the government rates. The brochure made the hotel look appealing enough, but that was where the appeal ended.
“Once we arrived we thought it was Halloween because this place was dark, creepy, and I was ready for a ghoul to jump out at me,” Chris recalls. “The rooms were unbelievably small, I didn’t have a toilet seat, and my friend Brian’s room didn’t have electricity!”
Undaunted, the foursome walked down the street to a local Domino’s pizza for a small taste of home. Not surprisingly, none of the employees spoke English, so Chris simply pointed to a picture of a pepperoni pizza on the menu.
“Sure enough, they were pepperoni…with mushrooms and corn!” he says. “We did our best to not complain, and ate since we were starving.”
In the end, the Army veteran admits the pizza was not too bad, despite the “unorthodox toppings.”
“We went back to our hotel and tried to get some sleep,” Chris says, “with our shoes on. We still laugh to this day about that pizza and hotel.”
In for a cat, out with a dog
Now separated from service, Chris lives in Florida and is often home alone. He longs for companionship, especially since his girlfriend Veronica lives and works in Colorado as a registered nurse, and he no longer travels for his job.
“I have always wanted my own dog,” Chris says. “Growing up, we always had cats. And living alone here in Florida and my constant traveling for work made it very difficult for me to consider adopting.”
One day when Veronica was in town for a visit, the couple decided to go to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay – just to “browse.”
“Originally, we were planning on getting a cat,” says Chris, “but when we passed through the kennel with the small dogs, we absolutely fell in love with Darla when she yelped at us to come see her. She was adorable and was very distressed about being in there. I set up a meet with her in their yard and she was extremely affectionate and friendly. We knew just then that we were going to take her home.”
“Darla is such a great dog,” Chris says. “It makes me happy that they gave her to a no-kill shelter, rather than just abandoning her on the streets. I am extremely grateful I had the courage to adopt her.”
Chris noted that Darla was very well trained, and he “hopes for the best” for her previous family.
While at the shelter, the Army veteran learned about their partnership with Pets for Patriots, which helps veterans and military personnel adopt adult and special needs pets, and large breed dogs – and provides a range of benefits to make pet parenthood more affordable on an ongoing basis.
“I immediately applied that same day,” he says. “It is a great program and I encourage all veterans to consider using Pets for Patriots. Not only do you receive a few helpful benefits from the program, but when you adopt from a shelter, you are saving a life!”
Bronze Star veteran and his battle buddy
“Living alone can be very boring, and at times can really make stressful times even worse,” Chris shares, “since no one is around to talk to, or help me keep my mind distracted.”
Life is no longer lonely or boring for the Bronze Star veteran.
“Knowing Darla is at home waiting for me to walk through that door is exciting for me. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been gone for twenty minutes or four hours,” he says. “She always greets me as if she hasn’t seen me in years!”
Like many veterans, Chris misses the camaraderie and closeness of his fellow soldiers, but Darla has become something of a four-legged battle buddy for the decorated veteran. For her part, the little dog has taken well to her new life, including ditching her own bed to sleep under the blankets with Chris.
“She refuses to sleep in her own bed,” he says. “It’s very funny to see her jump on the bed and use her nose to push the blankets over her so she can burrow underneath. Even if I make her sleep in her own bed, she will somehow jump up on my own bed without me knowing, and sneak under the covers.”
Soon Darla may have to share the covers with Veronica, since she and Chris are moving soon to Denver so that they can finally all be together. Once there, Chris will pursue a new challenge in the civilian world.
“My passion is snowboarding and shooting guns,” Chris says. “And I hope to one day open my own bar and grill.”
Whatever the young Army veteran decides to do, Darla will have his back.
“The loyalty and affection she gives me can make any day so much better,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how mad, irritated or stressed out I am, because once I walk through that door she makes everything go away and helps me to relax. She helps me keep my head up.”