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Service Dogs Help Military Vets Reach New Heights


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The group of Army Veterans anxiously await their flight with their service dogs by their side.

While serving as a Marine, Harold Mattice was deployed to Iraq three times. Like a number of other soldiers, Mattice has been struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as injuries. Mattice has found life after the military quite difficult and nerve-racking as a result.

On Tuesday morning, Mattice and several other Veterans nervously awaited a ride on a test flight at Southern Illinois Airport. The veterans were brave and ready to fight their fears because they were going forward with support by their side.

“Just getting on the plane, to me, is very traumatic … just with all the people,” Mattice said.

Alongside his four-legged friend, Maverick, Mattice boarded the plane and set flight Tuesday morning. By the time the plane touched back down on solid grown, Mattice was nothing but smiles.

“It was a big moment,” Mattice said.

Mattice credits Maverick for his newly discovered courage, as well as a Southern Illinois organization, This Able Veteran.

This Able Veteran is an organization based in Carbondale, Illinois that pairs veterans with service dogs. Candidates for getting service dogs struggle with various injuries in their civilian lives.

The program works with the veteran and his dog for several weeks as the pair complete an on-site training course. The training period allows the dog and the veteran to spend time together and develop their own special bond.

The founder of the organization, Behesha Doan, beamed as she stated that this Tuesday was very valuable for the current class.

“They need to learn how to do all the normal things, things we tend to take for granted, with their dogs,” Doan said. “Going on a trip with their families is one of them.”

The class that is currently completing the training program contains six veterans. Some live locally in the area, while others have travelled to be a part of the class.

Kevin MacDonald is one of the success stories following his pairing with his service dog, a golden retriever named Buck.

MacDonald had been injured during a peacekeeping mission in Croatia, shortly before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Due to a disorder that affects his balance, MacDonald was not able to join the class on their memorable flight. MacDonald did comment on what a major impact his service dog has made.

Already having dogs at home, MacDonald was unsure how the program would have any benefit for him. Within the first few days of meeting Buck, the Army veteran already knew the bond with Buck would be different.

“I never thought there would be a difference,” he said. “But having a trained dog, he actually could tell the other day when I was getting a migraine, so I was pretty impressed.

MacDonald also stated that having Buck, a trained service dog, has given him “a little more confidence going out in the community.”

On Tuesday, the dogs gave their handlers the confidence they needed to step onto a plane. Even walking amongst a busy airport can be challenging and overwhelming, but with their service dog by their side, the veterans feel more at ease.

After Tuesday’s flight, the veterans were ecstatic. Doan was overwhelmed with a big bear hug from Mattice, as he was so thankful.

“They did fantastic,” Doan said.