-I have seen several of them trained to perform service animal tasks.
-I have a lady that's wheelchair bound.
She drops her cellphone, she drops her shoes, bird runs over, picks them up, climbs up, and hands them back to her.
-I know for me personally, like, I would go home, visit family and friends on like, leave, and it's like they just saw me as this one person.
They're like, "Oh, well, you know, she's a Marine, she's doing well.
She's a badass."
It's like, you guys have no idea, like -- like, what we're dealing -- like, what I have to deal with and, like, what I have to put on just so you guys can see this version of me.
-It's just a heavy blow, you know?
I mean, part of what I did there is what I do here, you know?
I mean, I'm a morale guy and, you know, I'm not trying to pat myself on the back.
It's just, I like to make people happy.
I like knowing that people look at me and they say, "Hey, if Doc says he's gonna come for you, he's gonna be there, and there's absolutely nothing that's gonna stop him.
He doesn't care if he's walking into it and he knows it's gonna kill him."
-My service dog, Charlie, has been by far the best therapy for both my physical and emotional combat traumas, and I've seen the impact that animals have had on fellow veterans, too.
Hi, I'm Stacy Pearsall, retired Air Force staff sergeant.
And today I'm sitting down with Ron Johnson, Nina Guerra, and Joe Worley as we discuss the power of animals and how they can positively impact veterans who are struggling after action.
-♪ There will be light ♪ ♪ There is a road ♪ ♪ Marching on ♪ ♪ Coming home ♪ [ Rotors whirring ] ♪♪ [ Birds chirping ] ♪♪ -Ron, Nina, and Joe, welcome to my house.
And thanks for coming on the show.
This is gonna be a lot of fun.
Obviously, we have a couple of other folks in the room that we should probably knowledgeable -- Charlie and...?
-Galaxie with an I-E because he's fancy.
[ Laughter ] -Oh, that is special.
I like to call him Chuck sometimes, but that's only when he's a naughty dog, which is never.
Well, I should say the Marines have landed.
[ Laughter ] Because we've got two Marines and then a Navy guy who was with the Marines.
-Yeah, a Navy corpsman.
-I'm Air Force, so I wouldn't know.
-I'm glad you said it.
It sounds like I'm, you know, pandering when I say it.
"I was with the Marines, I swear!"
-No, but that's like -- like...
It's like, oh, when the corpsmen who were, like, were in corps training -- it's like, "Yeah, I want that corpsman.
I don't want the other corpsman.
I'll take this one."
If we had to pick.
-See, here's what it's about.
I got paid to keep him alive.
-And I got paid to keep him alive.
-[ Laughs ] -And it felt that way.
I mean, it was it was definitely a -- you know, a mutual bond.
-Did they feel that way about you?
-They did, because there... there are only great corpsmen and bad corpsmen.
And great doesn't mean they know what they're doing.
It means that they'll do anything.
They'll go out.
They know that if they say, if they call your name, that you'll go.
And that's what a good corpsman is.
And so, I was young enough to not have enough sense for self-preservation, and that's that's what makes a good corpsman.
-Joe Worley, fondly known as "Doc" by his Marines, was serving as a Navy corpsman during the Battle of Fallujah when an improvised explosive device detonated, forever changing the course of his life.
To regain his independence, Joe sought partnership from a service animal and now advocates for the expansion and use of service dogs for veterans through America's VetDogs.
So, as a Navy corpsman, did you have a choice to go with the Marines?
Like, did they say, "Listen, you could be a hospital corpsman or you could be..." What is it called when you go with the Marines?
-You're still a hospital corpsman, but there's FMF corpsman and then there's -- there's what we call blue side corpsman.
-You're gonna have to dumb this down for me -because I literally don't know any of it.
-Sorry, Fleet Marine Force, FMF.
-So, basically means you're green side with the Marines or you're blue side with the Navy, which could be anything from submarines to aircraft carriers.
It's a really, really broad job.
But what's cool about it is that there's lots of opportunities.
You can go into the SEALs if you want, which it wasn't something -- or you can even go into recon, which is something that was interesting to me.
But, you know, after my first deployment, I got hurt, so I wasn't able to follow that pipeline.
But your job is with the Marines and, you know, their job is to keep you alive, and your job is to keep them alive.
So, did you have corpsmen with you?
-Now, tell me a little bit about your time in the Marines.
-What did you do in the Marine Corps?
-I was, um... Hmm!
In simple terms, a ground pounder and a sniper.
And then went to G-2, which is logistics, before I got out.
But it was -- it was interesting.
We did, a lot of times we had corpsmen attached to us.
-I was stationed out of Vietnam, so we didn't have as much actual... taking a hill and giving a hill up.
Ours was mostly we got a set of orders, we're airborne.
Here comes a truck convoy.
Take it out and get out.
So, if we needed one, we had one with us.
If not, you know, we got him out the best we could and then a Huey came and picked him up later.
We didn't have one with us all the time, but we had somebody that knew what they were doing.
-Ron Johnson has dedicated his entire life to his parrot rescue in Georgia, called Feathered Friends Forever, where he rescues, rehabs, and rehomes birds.
After serving in the Marine Corps and deploying to Vietnam, Rob received therapeutic love and support from his winged companions.
Having experienced the benefits of the birds' devotion, Ron now pairs other veterans and parrots, giving both a new lease on life.
So, Ron, you're originally from Chicago?
-What brought you to the South?
-When I got out of the military, I moved down South.
The intention was I came down, opened some businesses.
I had surveyed it before I got out.
A good market, open market.
So I moved from Chicago down to Columbia and opened a couple businesses there.
And eventually somebody said, "We'll write you out a check."
And I said, "Thank you very much, I'm gone."
-What motivated you to choose the Marine Corps?
Why the Corps?
-I was -- Based on age and time, I would've got drafted into the Army.
And I just...
I didn't like the Army.
-What was it about the Army you didn't like?
-The name just sounds dumb.
[ Laughter ] Wussies.
[ Laughter ] See, I had just got out of high school.
I was on cross-country.
I ran track, I ran field.
I played football.
I was a lean, mean machine.
So I said, "Might as well."
You know, let's take it, go.
-And then I regretted that one.
-I will have to say, of all the branches, obviously, the Air Force seems to be the more...corporate.
Dare I say corporate?
Yeah, good word.
-They're all leaning that way now, it seems like.
-I don't think the Corps is leaning that way.
-Oh, yeah, probably not.
-You'd be surprised.
Yeah, I think I got out at a good time, in my opinion.
-So, Nina, why did you choose the Corps?
-Well, to be quite honest, I did -- like, I spoke to all four of the -- my grandpa and I, we spoke to every recruiter.
The Air Force wasn't even there, I don't think.
-They had met their quota, their one person they could recruit.
-Yeah, but, you know, and like, I...
The recruiter who was my -- ended up being my recruiter, the one that I actually sat down to, he really took the time to explain, like, what the Marine Corps had to offer.
So, really good recruiter skills in that point.
But then I was like, "You know what?
Like, if I'm gonna do this, I'm just gonna do it."
And to me, that meant, like, doing the Marine Corps, like, joining the Marine Corps.
I'm like, "If I'm gonna do this military thing"... 'Cause I really came home one day and was like, "Hey, guys, just so you know, I'm not going back to school in the fall -- I'm gonna join the Marine Corps."
Everybody was like, "No, you're not.
You are not gonna listen to other people tell you what to do."
-Marine Corps veteran Nina Guerra holds a master's degree in clinical psychology and is currently working toward her doctorate in pursuit of helping combat veterans like herself overcome the psychological traumas of war.
Going back to her ranching roots, she purchased land and founded the Rustic Ranch, and equine therapy program where she uses horsepower to heal.
Why were they so surprised?
Was it because you'd never had military in the family or...?
-So, no, I do have some military in the family, but I didn't grow up in like a military environment, you know.
So, we didn't -- like, I wasn't like a military brat.
I didn't go from place to place or anything like that.
So, you know, if people ask me, like, "Do you come from a military family?"
At first thought, I would say like, no, not really, but really, like, my grandpa was drafted and he went to Korea.
He was in the Army.
My uncle was in the Marine Corps.
I have some distant relatives that were in the Marine Corps.
My dad was in the Navy.
So I guess I did come a little bit from a military family.
-Yeah, sounds like it.
-I just wasn't immersed in it.
So it wasn't anything that, like, I grew up aspiring to do.
So they were just really surprised because I was just a very -- like, I'm the firstborn child.
I'm the oldest of two.
I'm the oldest grandchild on both sides.
So I'm just very, like, headstrong and like... -Yeah.
Joe, Ron, did you have military in your background?
-As far as Marine Corps and Navy?
No, there was no one in my immediate family that had any prior experience in the military.
-And you made this decision to join the Navy.
And part of it was I wanted to travel, you know, and I wanted a little bit of school.
And I thought the Navy would give me the most opportunity to maybe get on a boat and go see some things.
And I just got on the airplane and went and saw some sand.
[ Laughter ] -Yeah.
-And you asked earlier about, you know, the Navy corpsmen and did I have a choice.
And for me, with my sort of aggressive type personality and my size, I was definitely directed towards the Marine Corps as I was going through Corps school.
And they were exactly right.
It's where I needed to be.
Having said that, I might not have chosen that if I had had my very own choice when I first went in.
But by the time I learned more about what they did, I definitely was -- I was leaning towards going Fleet Marine corpsman, so... -When I actually was trying to decide what I was gonna do in terms of what branch of service, my sister had joined the Air Force, and I was talking to an Air Force recruiter and I was talking about doing something in the arts, whether that was photography, videography, or graphics design.
Now, a friend of mine was also thinking about enlisting.
She was kind of looking at the Army.
We were like, "Let's go check out the Marines."
So she and I go into the Marine recruiters office, and I had told them, "Hey, so what does the Marines have to offer?
What's the basic training like?
Do you guys have an artist position or a photography or something like that?"
And the Marine Corps, the Marine Corps guy was like, "Oh, you've been talking the Air Force, huh?"
I said, "Yeah."
And he's like, "You know what we call Air Force gals in the Marines, right?"
And I was like, "No," and he said, "Marine Corps mattresses."
-Oh, my goodness.
No, that's 100%.
-I didn't know, like, how far back that stereotype went, But I was like, "You guys call them that?"
-And I was like, "Well, thank you.
I just decided which branch of service I'm not joining, but I appreciate that."
-A little bit easier, thanks.
-My grandpa begged me to join the Air Force.
He was just like, "Just join the Air Force.
Why don't you just finish college, and then you'll go in the Air Force."
I'm like, that's the point.
I don't -- I'm not gonna pay for college.
-Like, I'm gonna, you know...
I didn't know then, like, what the costs of it would be, like, outweighing the price and like my body and my sanity.
But I made out alright.
-Well, my great-grandfather was a was a marine in World War I, and he actually lived until I -- he lived to be 98 years old, and just long enough to see me getting ready to go in the military.
You know, there's sort of this pressure to follow that line.
But I was like, "No, I'm good."
So, Ron, tell me a little bit about your time in the Marines.
-[ Sighs ] I had specific jobs.
Whenever I got orders, I was airborne, and that was the only time I knew where we were going and what we were doing.
-Was this in Vietnam?
Actually, I spent 22 months in Cambodia.
-I never realistically set foot in Vietnam.
[ Chuckles ] That sounds weird, but what I was -- We had no I.D., had no I.D.
cards, no dog tags.
And we were our own separate entity that basically took care of ourselves.
We blew up a lot of Uncle Charlie's boats in the river and attacked convoys, especially if they were Red Chinese bringing in supplies or troops.
Every once while we got called what a bridge was down.
But for the most part, we did what we had to do.
-Did you feel like when you came home from Vietnam that the attitudes here in the US were a little hostile, or was that one of the reasons why you went out to the Bahamas?
What was the reasons?
-I won't say the attitudes were hostile.
The attitudes were stupid, if that's a better word for it.
I don't know how many people we've still got in Canada that defected that haven't come back yet.
But, "Oh, I can run away to Canada and get away with it," because back then either they joined or they got drafted.
We don't have the draft today, do we, anymore?
-Yeah, you went to court back then, the judge was like, "Hmm.
Two years here or two years here -- which one you want?"
Okay, so most of them took military, so there was no record.
-And then you found out they weren't worth a diddly dupe in the military either.
So what difference did it make?
-When you have that caliber of individual, whether it was like prison or the Marines, did that affect how you operated downrange?
-People at that point were not trained for combat, that they were in.
Afghanistan, Iraq, it was basically "I can see you.
You can see me."
-Vietnam wasn't that way.
You never saw Charlie till he was in front of you.
-I'll agree with you 100%.
But I will say it's a different type of camouflage.
And the reason why I say that is because the things that we dealt with were definitely not jungle warfare.
But you have -- Your enemies are blended in to the civilians.
And so sometimes you don't realize who your enemy is until they're right there, until it's happened.
-Well, that's why I said it would never have paid me to be over there, because the first guy across the street picked up a cellphone and dialed it, I'd have shot him because I don't know where I'm standing.
In Vietnam, at least we had some sense to look for what we were about to step on.
-I would argue that from your generation to say, our generation, the threat level was the same.
How we physiologically reacted to those threat levels are the same and the same sort of issues when we come home are the same.
I don't know as -- I think our brother -- and welcome home, by the way.
Our brethren from the Vietnam generation didn't necessarily get the welcome home that we did.
-The attitude for us was, "Why did you do it?
You could have just avoided the draft and left the country."
Other than that, there was some congratulations, some thank-yous.
I get more thank-yous today than I got when I got home.
-I think the hardest part that you have to deal with in general is the mental aspect of it.
-The coming home, the physical part, yeah, I mean, but it's, you know, as a guy, I do well with hard but not complex tasks.
Maybe that's just men in general, but, you know, for instance, me getting hurt, I knew what I needed to do.
I needed to get better, and that part of my life was difficult, but it was simple.
But the stuff that I had to learn how to cope and integrate into my life, that's the hard stuff.
And that's the stuff that you've had to deal with and you've had to deal with and you've had to deal with.
-When I came back, they were still having protests.
They did major protests until the Tet Offensive, which was in '72, I think if I remember correctly.
We had people, you know, still protest, protest, protest, marching, stay out, go home, don't go, don't join.
And you had to look at it every day as if, you know, "I need to stay in the house.
I'm going to get in a real lot of trouble."
-If you were looking at Operation Enduring Freedom, what we did in Afghanistan, people thought that was a just war because of what happened at 9/11, But people often look at Iraq and think, "Were we really supposed to be there?"
And so they kind of had this different perspective on it in some ways, certainly, again, not on the level of Vietnam, but, you know, of all the -- if we're talking about what's a just war and what's an unjust war, all I kept telling people was, "Listen, I joined the service."
And when it came down to going downrange, my biggest thing was not getting somebody hurt and making sure that the person in front of me, that I had their six and the person behind me had mine.
The other thing I try to also impart to people was you have to be able to say, "Listen, we as a nation voted the people in that took us to war.
And if we as a nation are sending people to war, then we as a nation need to bring them back."
In every level, in whatever sense that means.
I just don't think people see it that way.
I mean, if you think about just people who don't even have any, like, family military experience at all, it's like they don't -- they don't know -- they don't know what it's like to live with those veterans.
Or when people come home, they have no idea, you know, what those people are going through.
Even just like I know for me personally, like, I would go home, visit family and friends on, like, leave.
And it's like they just saw me as this one person.
They're like, "Oh, well, you know, she's a Marine.
She's doing well.
She's a badass."
It's like, "You guys have no idea, like what -- like, what we're dealing with, what I have to deal with and, like, what I have to put on just so you guys can see this version of me."
-What was it about you that they weren't seeing?
-They weren't seeing all the stereotypes I had to fight off every single day.
They weren't seeing, like, how many -- how much time I had to put on just to outshine, just to be, like, on par with my peers, my male peers.
And it's just like -- because unfortunately, we don't even want to share it with them, but they just see it because that's how it happens.
But I think a lot -- I'm speaking for myself in general.
Like, I didn't feel comfortable showing that side to my family because they had painted this picture of me that, like, they were very proud of who they thought that I was, and it took a lot of time for me to be like, "I'm just really not that person, y'all."
-But also part of it is that it takes an emotional toll to express that side of you, that side that's grown.
And I don't necessarily mean grown as in grown above or beyond.
I'm saying that has just been changed by the military.
And it would be like, how much time can you expend trying to explain a color to someone who will never see that color?
And it's not because you feel like, "Oh, you'll never get it.
You don't understand."
You legitimately don't want them to understand what you're saying.
And so you're you're sort of giving the Chutes and Ladders version of what's happening in your life because I don't want to sit down and talk to someone what it feels like to roll into the edge of a city and realize that every single person there wants you dead.
And not only do they want you dead, they are actively trying to figure out how to do it and live through it.
And so, you know, you're trying to sort of find a nice way to explain to people something that they're not gonna understand in a way that doesn't sound like you were, you know, patronizing them because you don't mean it that way.
It's just -- I mean, you can sit here -- A lady can sit here and have a four-hour conversation with me about pregnancy, and I'm not gonna know what it feels like.
I'm just never gonna get it.
-And even then, like, we talk about, like, coming home and, like, all of the things of like, what's left when we come home.
And it's like we're just now starting to talk about that with even now just having this conversation.
-Well, let's talk about it.
So, I had been injured.
I had been medevacked.
I went out of Iraq not the way I had gone in.
I didn't plan it that way.
I was dealing with feeling -- the feeling of rejection, not only from the military, but from people within my unit.
I was feeling less than because all the things that I had worked so hard to be the best at, I had felt like I fell flat.
-And then I was fixated on all of the things that -- that I was missing.
Missing is probably the best word.
I was missing the camaraderie and missing the connection.
I was missing the adrenaline.
And I felt like I was missing out on the things I had left undone when I left Iraq.
And I also didn't know what I had for the future, and what was right in front of me was pain.
-Dealing with depression and not knowing how to ask for help.
And I think specifically, Nina, you can probably appreciate this, too, is, you know, as a woman, I spent so much time deflecting that pain, hiding it, concealing it.
And you -- Well, I suppose as a Navy guy with the Marines, you could appreciate that, too.
-I think anybody can, honestly, because it's like we can all -- like, we even said.
Like, how do we even have that conversation?
You made a comment earlier about, like having friends, right?
And it's like, yeah, we probably all have some friends, but it's like how hard -- it can be difficult to say.
Like, "I kind of need you, man."
-It's so frustrating because, you know, in the whole time in the military, you're taught to be part of a team.
The whole point of basic training is to break you down and make you work as a team.
Yet we get to the end of our military career.
We transition into the civilian world and we island ourselves.
And then we do things like this, to where I've had very limited conversation with you, but I feel as connected with you as anyone I've ever served with.
And it's -- And then you have that -- You feel that camaraderie of hanging out with somebody that you -- that you know has had the same experiences as you, and you go, "Oh, man, it feels great to be around veterans.
I should do this again.
I should do that."
And then you go home and you don't.
-Yeah, it's like, "These people kind of get me."
And I mean, that's -- I think we can say that's why, like, we are still in the service of serving others, in the line of work of serving others.
I mean, we all have -- Me, I didn't want my service to end, and to me, now that looks like serving the community, the veteran community, the Hispanic community, like the community in general.
That's the one thing that I loved about my career was this, the camaraderie, and the stories of like, "Oh, wow.
You know, we might come from different parts of our military career, but like, yeah, that resonates with me."
I get that.
I feel so enticed to continue to serve my community and take -- I have, like, we as veterans have so much that we can impart into the community.
It's about like, how do we do that?
And organizations like yours and get involved in like other veterans services, like, that's how -- It's not going to get better overnight.
But at least you know you put in that effort, you know.
That's something that you want, you're passionate about and you did it.
And I think at the end of the day, that's really all we can do.
-Yeah, I'm too damn old the reap the benefits.
But if I can help today's generation, it's a lot better.
-But one of the things you didn't mention that I thought was interesting was that one of the bigger gaps I felt in my life that I couldn't put a name to was a gap in in being a part of something bigger.
Because when you're in the military, you're serving your country.
And so when you get out, if you don't accidentally fall into something that fills that hole, you don't realize that there's a hole there.
And so me getting involved with, you know, nonprofits after I got hurt and then you -- I don't know if you were, I don't know, emotionally mature enough to understand that it was necessary for your mental health to be involved in it or not, but it fills a gap that you don't realize that you have.
-Well, mine came from before I got -- went into the military.
I had two parrots that I had to rehome and I said, "Somehow, somewhere, some day, I'd make it up to every one of them that needs a home."
Well, 26 years ago, I realized I stuck my feet in my mouth 40 years ago.
And my wife, when I started, she had three birds and I had two birds when we started the rescue.
And at one time we were up to 1,400.
-Oh, my goodness.
Well, you're a man of your word.
-Ron, what do you think it is about about birds that you find comfort?
Like what -- what do you derive from them?
-[ Chuckles ] They're human beings with feathers.
They're capable of conversation, they're capable of action, reaction.
-Whatever you want to call it.
I've watched -- You would not believe the mentality of some of these.
It's just unreal.
It's a 3- to 5-year-old kid for eight years.
-[ Laughs ] -And, you know, for those of you that have had kids, you can understand that.
-[ Laughs ] -Do you find that they help you relax your anxiety?
-When I have time to sit down and work with them, yes.
Having the time to do it -- And that's what people ask me is, "How do you spend time with all the birds?"
And I say, "I don't.
I don't want to.
I don't want any one of them that's possibility to go to you to become attached to me."
-And so I'm the bad guy.
I do all the shots.
I do all the medication.
I do all the nails, and I make enemies.
[ Chuckles ] -[ Chuckles ] -And that way I can take that bird out of the cage that hates me and hand him to you.
-But, yeah, that's -- You know, I used to -- When we had 10 or 20, I loved playing with them.
Had a ball teaching them stuff, doing things.
My African grey that just died.
She wasn't known for her vocabulary, but him and I can sit here and play baseball with her.
And she would never open her wings unless I commanded her to.
-You never know what they're gonna do.
My wife and I went shopping when I came home, and on the way home, I'm like, "Damn, I left the computer room open."
Turn a corner and here comes Oscar down the hallway.
Delete key in his beak.
-[ Laughs ] -So they're quite mischievous, huh?
You didn't want to see the rest of the keyboard.
-Now, I had learned recently about the Parrots for Patriots program, and that's growing in popularity.
I've heard because of the birds' ability to interact with a veteran.
-And, you know, alternatively, like, if somebody doesn't necessarily connect with a dog because every every person is an individual and has individual needs.
So from what I'm told, parrots are really, really great animals to have as companion animals for veterans.
But they're not for everybody.
-So let's talk about it a little bit.
Like, when I said I couldn't go it alone anymore and I didn't -- I wasn't willing to open up to my family yet or my husband and I didn't want to put -- I didn't want to be a burden.
The last thing I want to do is be coddled or be a burden.
-So I met you, Joe, at just the right time in my life when I was -- -I've heard that a lot.
You probably have.
But, you know, the thing was, I had started looking at getting a service animal, a dog that could help me be more independent and less worried about the burden I was going to be on others.
The thing was, we as veterans tend to downplay our service.
We tend to always put others ahead of ourselves.
And for me, the one thing I kept saying was, "Oh, there are more amputees that should be ahead of me.
There are more blind veterans that should be ahead of me."
But seriously, that's how we think, right?
It's just -- It's -- I mean, even coming on this show for me, it's like, "Well, like, I don't know.
There are other people who should be highlighted, right?"
Even as I started, like, my nonprofit, I'm like, "Yeah, I want to share my story, but maybe it's not as good as a story as somebody else's."
Like, you know, it's like, so I've had to find exactly that.
It's like, "This is me, this is who I am, this is my story."
So it's like I can share it and just let people either resonate with it or not.
-What I don't want is for you to feel my size in neediness.
I don't want you to see that you have to pander to what I need.
-I don't want to be somebody that's like, "Oh, be careful.
Don't say anything remotely like I'm pulling your leg or anything around him."
-I don't want to be one of those type of people that throws my service in people's faces.
You don't do that to people.
That's such a low blow.
And that's even me.
It's like I struggled, like, finally talking to people about, like, yeah, the stress didn't go away, y'all.
But then, you know, especially my Hispanic culture a little bit too, they're just like, you know, like, "You're just being dramatic."
-Nina, I want to talk to you a little bit about your culture because I know that's come up in conversation before and how that impacts what you're doing.
How did you get into equine therapy?
I know about dogs.
We're going to talk to Joe here in a minute about service animals.
But I'm really curious.
As a fellow horse person, what do you find that's -- What do you find that's therapeutic about horses?
How did you get into them?
And tell me a little bit about the program you're developing.
So, I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, like in the city.
But my gran-- my mother's father's side of the family, he grew up down in South Texas near Corpus.
And -- my grandpa -- the same one.
He was a Korean veteran.
He got drafted in the Army and he went to Korea.
He grew up in the ranching world.
So, I mean, had he not got drafted, he probably would have been a rancher and stayed down there.
So we would spend summers down there.
And that was kind of like my escape from, like, a violent home life.
That was like -- When I went down to the ranch and, like, was immersed in, like, that country, rural living, I could, like, breathe.
I could -- And I didn't know it then.
I didn't know it was therapeutic.
I just knew that I could relax.
And that followed me.
Everywhere that I was stationed, I would reach out to like local barns just to volunteer, like, muck the stalls, like, get some horse time.
Well, I was stationed in California, and I got this wild hair that I wanted a second job.
[ Laughter ] I know.
Like, talk about, like, type -- -What are you doing?
-Talk about, like, Type A, like, overachiever personality.
Like, I was already studying undergrad and psychology, and I became a respite care nanny for children with special needs, specifically autism.
-So, yeah, one of the children, I would take her to her PATH riding lessons, which they focus more on, like, therapeutic riding for disability, physical disabilities.
And I was like, "Oh, wow, I didn't know that, like, horsemanship could be therapeutic in this sense."
End of my career now, I'm in Charleston and it all kind of came full circle.
I did the same thing, reached out to a local barn.
It happened to be an equine-assisted therapy barn.
And at that time, like, I didn't really know much about, like, how clinicians were incorporating therapeutic riding into the two.
Like, I had a conversation with the lead clinician there, the founder, and I was like, "This is exactly, like, what I want to do.
I don't know how I'm gonna do it yet, but this is what I want to do."
I want to tie, like, the ranch life therapy.
That's kind of like the ranching side and the equestrian side, the horse -- therapeutic horsemanship.
So we, her and I got to talking and she was like, "Well, you know, like, if this is something you want to do down the road," which, yeah, you say it like I didn't think about that.
I tricked myself into therapy.
-I love it.
I love it though.
Because sometimes you seek out what you need.
And that's kind of what happened.
And I wholeheartedly believe that when you work with that large of an animal, you kind of have to put your attention on that animal.
So whether you're stressing about anything that's happening outside of that space, it's gonna come up.
And whether you realize it or not, like, the horse is going to pick up on that energy.
And again, it's something that, like, that bond or, like, feeling, the way that the horse responds to your energy, it's like something that is just so indescribable.
So as I knew, like, what the end goal was to get my PhD.
and, like, be a clinician not only for, like, was that my end goal, but even more so as I was working towards transitioning out and, like, there are not enough veteran clinicians at that.
Like, and my own mental health journey.
And, like, talking to other clinicians that were, like, while I was still active duty, it's like, "Wait a minute, you have no military experience at all?
Like, you have no idea what it's like to sign your life away for X amount of years, but you want me to sit here and tell you about my experience?
Uh, yeah, no."
And it's, like, the acronyms.
"Oh, what does that mean?
What does that mean?"
And it's like, "I don't want to have to tell you what every little thing means."
And it's like, it's not fair to the veteran.
I didn't feel like it was fair to me.
And that, coupled with, like, the equine therapy, I'm like, "No, this is what I'm gonna do."
Not only has this be-- like, was the end goal for me, but it's like I felt the need to do that for other veterans that I know would probably, you know, given the right, like, setting, they may not ever want to talk about it and it's not fair to them to have to talk to people who have no idea.
I get it.
I get it because I'm in -- going through the training myself.
These clinicians go through so much training to understand the psyche and personalities and understand people's body language.
But it's not enough when you -- when you speak to the veteran community.
You said, like, we're not doing enough.
I completely agree.
No, we're not doing enough.
These, like, PTSD cocktails, if you will, like the medications and like, "Oh, you have to wait X amount of time to talk to a therapist.
Oh, you're very high-functioning.
So you can -- we'll put you on the wait list to speak to --" That's not enough.
And that's a lot of my own journey.
It's like, "You're very high-functioning."
It's like, "Yeah, and you don't know how much it took just to have this conversation with you.
And now you're really setting me off by telling me that I'm not depressed enough."
-We were built up with this stigma around mental health to begin with.
-It's a huge stigma.
So to step forward and say, "I'm struggling" is a huge, huge thing.
-I mean, we're learning how to do this stuff now and unfortunately it is late.
It's almost like we're just now realizing that this social-media mind-set is dangerous for anyone under the age of like 40, basically.
And, you know, the problem is, is like the question is, "What do you do about it?"
I mean, I think what we're partially doing is we're paying for the jokes we all laughed at for all those years about how many psychologists were working at McDonald's.
And so we talked people out of seeking out those opportunities.
And now here we are.
And there's people that have been told their entire lives "don't go into psychiatry or psychology because there's no work there."
And now all of a sudden people are like, "Oh, by the way, we're all crazy."
-And we all need to talk to someone.
-You know, that's so funny.
In our Hispanic culture, it's like, "You don't need to talk to anybody.
You need to talk to God.
You need to, like, rely on your family.
Like, why do you want to air out your business?"
-The thing -- People like to focus on one or two things.
And the problem is, is that mental health is a three-part problem.
It's physical, mental and spiritual.
And so -- And when I say spiritual, don't get offended.
I don't mean you have to go to a Southern Baptist church.
-No, no, yeah, absolutely.
-What I mean is what we do is spiritual.
-With you being involved in helping veterans through animals is a spiritual thing.
It's something that's bigger than you, that gives you fulfillment and allows other people to be involved in something.
People tell you to go to God and that's great and you need that.
You need that spiritual side of things.
But you also have got to take care of your body and your mind.
-What is so successful about animals is it brings us together.
We don't have -- We don't have to go to this program.
We don't have to go thinking, "Hey, this is gonna be therapy.
We're all gonna share war stories."
No, we can go and say, "I'm gonna go have some time with some parrots."
-"I'm gonna go have some time with some horses.
And then if I can work through some of this stuff with like-minded individuals, then that would be beneficial."
So I ran into you, Joe, at some big convention.
I was traveling around with the Veterans Portrait Project, going state to state.
And I saw you over there with America's VetDogs, and I was like, "Hey, I really would love to photograph you with your then service dog, Benjamin."
And so I drug you over there, and I got to talking to you about being interested in having a service animal.
But again, downplaying why I needed one.
-You downplayed the crap out of yourself.
-I didn't even know you were a veteran until like halfway through our session, I think.
I mean, you really downplayed it.
So I'm curious from your perspective, what was our interaction like?
Because I think -- -[ Laughs ] -No, I think this is a very common theme for veterans.
So I'll be totally honest with you.
Sometimes you have conversations with people that you've had a thousand times and you never know when you're changing somebody's life.
And so for me, it was a reminder.
I do remember you.
I do remember seeing you.
I remember the whole thing.
And to say that there is stress in having been through the things that we go through, obviously, and there are people that look up to you and there's stress on that, too.
And so sometimes you meet people and you don't realize that that you're gonna play a part in their life, whether you know it or not.
And so those people become almost like seeds that fall out of the tree of your experiences.
And so it's good to know that we had an effect on your life.
And so to see how you followed through with that is humbling.
And so I do remember the conversation.
I do remember it.
And so, you know, for me, that's -- it's humbling on my side to know not only that, but also how far you've come and how our circle st-- our story circled around into Charlie.
-Because it is a small world.
They didn't necessarily pull us all together just because I was the one that pulled you in.
It's just I was the one that was doing a lot of the media work at the time with America's VetDogs.
And so, you know, when you got Mr. Charles there, I was absolutely giddy to be a part of it.
And when I heard it was your dog and you were the one that was getting him, I was flipping out.
I was so happy.
-Why don't we do a little reverse in time?
-And what led up to you getting involved with service animals?
Like, let's hear about your experience a little bit in the Navy as a corpsman.
-I almost went into the Marines straight out of high school, but I'm a mama's boy and she talked me out of it.
And it's good.
I wasn't -- I was not -- I would not have made it in the Marines as the 18-year-old that I was.
I needed another year or two.
I'd have got chewed up and spit out, I think.
And so luckily, when I went in again, you know, I was with my wife and went into the Navy thinking that I would not necessarily end up with the Marines, but I'd probably do something like a military -- like dog M.P.s or something like that.
But then, you know, I realize what corpsmen do, and I like the idea of the medical field.
I like the idea of being somebody that is under pressure because I know that that's the only time my stupid brain turns on is when there's pressure.
And I went over to Fallujah, Iraq, with the I Marines on Labor Day of 2004.
I ended up losing most of my second squad to a suicide bomber.
And we had a rough time, first assault on Fallujah.
And on September 17th, about two weeks after or before we were scheduled to go home, the first vehicle in our convoy got hit.
I jump out and go running up to try to help.
That morning, I had chosen food over getting my gear exactly the way I wanted, and I will do that for the rest of my life.
So if you ever want to catch me slipping, get me before breakfast.
-[ Laughs ] -But I had my 9-millimeter on my hip, and I always carried it on my side.
Out of the entire 6 1/2, 7 months that we were over there, you probably couldn't have caught me two or three days without that weapon being on my leg instead of up here where I always carried it.
So anyway, I had my 9-millimeter on my hip.
I run up to the first vehicle.
Bomb goes off.
The first vehicle had been hit with an I.E.D.
I jump out and go running up to try to help.
Bomb goes off, hits me on foot, and whatever it was, that hit me me busted that 9-mil into five pieces on my hip.
Would've went through me like butter.
I would not be here right now.
I was already almost dead.
Left leg was traumatically amputated.
Give or take a tendon or two and right leg was severely messed up.
I was able to roll over and put a tourniquet on.
Being the corpsman, that was my job.
It was just a ringing in my ears.
I couldn't hear anything.
And strangely enough, one of the first things I heard was they called me K.I.A.
Said, "Doc Worley is K.I.A."
And the reason I didn't like that -- It wasn't like they were giving up on me.
What I didn't like is that a bunch of Marines just heard their corpsman got killed over the radio.
And that's not -- You can't -- That doesn't happen, no.
And so I was like, "That's not happening."
And, um... -Do you think that they would lose faith in the situation if they knew Doc was gone?
-It's just a heavy blow, you know.
I mean, part of what I did there is what I do here, you know?
I mean, I'm a morale guy.
You know, I'm not trying to pat myself on the back.
I like to make people happy.
I like knowing that people look at me and they say, "Hey, if Doc says he's gonna come for you, he's gonna be there.
And there's absolutely nothing that's gonna stop him.
He doesn't care if he's walking into it and he knows it's gonna kill him."
And so when the first vehicle got hit, you know, and I went running up there, I just -- it was the thing to do.
I knew running across a bridge at a bomb -- I knew it was the dumbest thing I've ever done in my life.
But I said I would do it.
And that's what I did.
And so, you know, when I heard the K.I.A., it didn't hurt me because I was like, "Oh, they gave up on me."
I've had people question whether I was gonna be able to do stuff or not my whole life.
I just didn't like that they heard that, and I was like, "I need to start moving so that they know that that's not true."
I remember reaching into my pocket.
I had a three-month-old daughter I'd never even met.
Her name's Abby.
She's -- She was a really cute baby.
She's hideous now.
-[ Laughs ] -But I remember reaching into my pocket and there was a -- they made a pin that they sent out, and it was like one of those you could wear on your chest like a "vote for Pedro" thing.
And I had it in my pocket with my tourniquet.
And so I remember reaching in there.
It was almost like a... Like a slap, like a cold water in the face thing where I was like, okay, grounded.
Like, I've got reasons.
I've got things I've got to do.
I got to get home to my wife and my new daughter.
Well, I started moving after I got the tourniquet on, and it wasn't even six inches.
I was like, "I'm -- This is committing suicide.
I cannot move."
-So the Marine got out of that vehicle that survived and was able to let me know that there's nothing that I could do.
So there I am.
I got a three-month-old daughter.
I'm getting -- They come pick me up.
They take me back to base.
You know, I go through a series of surgeries while I was in Baghdad, Balad, and to Landstuhl.
And so I got back.
That was September 17th.
I got back on the 22nd of September 2004.
And that's when I saw my daughter for the first time and got to see my wife, and my family showed up.
And then when a series of surgeries that -- that were just wild and through that process of the next year and a half of trying to recover, I saw a lot of people that were not doing well.
I saw a lot of people that were struggling.
I had a buddy named Casey that I was in Fisher House with that that eventually ended up losing his battle.
And, you know, and we saw marriages fall apart and out of everybody that we were in the Fisher House with and everybody that we met there, I can probably count on one hand how many marriages are together right now.
I started noticing that as I got involved in other veterans coming inward and me meeting them, and I remember that Andrew Lourake -- and I'll say his name straight out because what a guy.
So this guy just comes in.
He pulls his prosthetic leg off.
I'm laying in the hospital bed.
I have not even seen one of these things yet.
And he's a -- I think he's a double-amputee pilot.
So he pulls his prosthetic leg off, Ron, and he hands it to me and he says, "That's weird, right?
Deal with it."
And he wasn't one of those people like, "Deal with it!"
It was like he was just saying, "This is who you are."
-"This is it now."
-Like, "This is it."
-"This is what we do."
-"We do weird stuff.
We look weird.
That's just how life is."
-"This is your new life."
-This is it.
And I think that was a huge part of my going into that acceptance stage so early, which I think part of it happened on the bridge because I thought I was dead.
And so when I was -- when they called me K.I.A., I'm like, "I'm dead?
I got -- I'm just -- I'm Doc Worley.
I realized that there was the hole.
And I mentioned a little bit of that earlier is that when you get out of the military, you don't -- you don't realize the gap that it leaves in your life of being a part of a big family that's doing something that's bigger than you.
And so I accidentally sort of fell into nonprofit work just to help because I liked meeting people and they were taking people on trips and I'd get to go visit people and meet people.
I've never been one of those people that was like, "Take me on every trip you're going on."
I try to spread it out.
I went on like two ski trips over two years and they were calling in, asking me to go, you know, and I'm more than happy to do so.
-And every third person staring at you.
And you get used to it.
I mean, I remember the first couple of months when we would go out to the mall, I kept a blanket over my legs because I didn't want to make people feel grossed out.
And, you know, I forget who -- I think it was my buddy Matt.
But he said to me, he's like, "Look, if they can't handle looking at it, they don't deserve what it represents.
They don't deserve the fact that they can do what they're doing with their lives because of people like you."
But I got involved with America's VetDogs because I was on the second ski trip and they had a facility dog there by the name of Deuce that was there with Harvey, who was the occupational therapist there.
He's like 100.
He's been there a long time.
-Harvey's the man.
Deuce is the dog.
Harvey said, "Deuce, come," and the dog's entire demeanor changed.
And you've seen it.
You know the switch.
You know what I'm talking about when Charlie goes from from goofy, drooly, you know, silly boy to on point.
-But I fell in love and I put an application in for all the wrong reasons.
And so I absolutely realized that not only was Benjamin trained to help mitigate that physical disability, I got that sneaky therapy.
I mean, I had somebody to talk to.
Being completely surrounded by people or animals that you trust is important.
-It's like, yeah, you don't have to talk to people all of the time for talk therapy and you have no idea how therapeutic it is to be around these animals until you experience it.
-You said even just calling -- -It's just trust.
-You're around animals.
-"This dog --" Like, my dog too.
It's, like, I call him, he looks at me and it's, like, he comes right to me.
It's like, "Cool.
Thank you for that."
They have no idea how much of an impact they have on our lives as well.
-Galaxy, come on.
-Oh, my goodness.
-Charlie's the prettiest.
He loves this thing.
-Well, when I met you, Joe, I was in a rough place and trying to figure out how I was gonna move forward.
And I don't know if you remember what you said to me specifically, but you said, "Listen, if you have -- if you have mobility issues, whether they're visible or not, and you want to get out there and live your life and want the freedom that you had prior to what happened to you in Iraq, then you need a service dog."
And I think that gave me -- not only validated what I was feeling.
So thank you for that.
But I think it also gave me the strength I needed to admit that I needed it.
-And so I went home and I put an application in.
And Charlie wasn't a thing yet.
Not quite yet.
-And when I mean a thing, so, the "Today" show had this really great program called the "Today Show Puppy," and it was a partnership with America's VetDogs to not only raise awareness about service animals for veterans and what they could do but also to show just what is involved in training service dogs.
And when they launched the puppy with a program purpose -- "Puppy with a Purpose," rather, they brought some down the red carpet and I saw these huge ears flying and this cute little black Lab came running down.
And the public, they named him Charlie.
And over the course of Charlie's 18 months of training, he had amassed like 500,000 followers on Instagram.
And I was one of them.
So I was a superfan.
-Wait, this Charlie?
-Oh, this one.
Oh, my God.
So we're amongst a celebrity.
-Everyone was watching him.
And of course, I was really interested because I was waiting for a service dog for nearly two years.
-And watching Charlie really enlightened me as to what service dogs could do for veterans.
You know, obviously, living my life with -- with those triggers or things like PTSD and even my mobility issues and my hearing loss, what was the hardest part for me is at night when I can't control what comes into my dreams and what comes into -- My waking thoughts I can kind of control.
I can walk away.
I can kind of try and snap myself out of it.
But in dreams, I just have to live with them until they wake me up screaming.
And what I found out was one of the great things that Charlie does is nightmare interruption.
So to see that be played out on national television and what dogs could do for veterans, I was like, "That is amazing."
In the 18 months, I really went back and forth about whether I was going to pull my package.
-And I think a lot of veterans do that, too.
Like, "I'm not worthy.
I'm gonna -- I don't know if I need this anymore" or "I need it, but other people need it more."
Anyway, I went back and forth until I got a call in October of 2017.
They were like, "Well, we've got a dog and we have a few veterans that are in line for him.
We're trying to figure out which veteran is the best.
You know, what do you think?
You know, with this dog comes great responsibility."
When they said with Charlie comes great responsibility, what I didn't realize was what that would mean for me personally.
Because Charlie had amassed over 500,000 fans and that's just online, you know.
He was gonna be recognized.
And when when I was sort of hiding the things I was going through, that's the emotional and the physical stuff, and I will tell you, even the people that were working with me didn't know that I had traumatic brain injury and what I was -- how that affected me.
Now all of a sudden I was going to be walking alongside a walking billboard that was popular and beloved by everybody saying, "Something's wrong with this person."
And then I had to own those things about me.
Not only that, but the people who didn't realize who Charlie was or that women are veterans and being asked constantly, "Wait, are you training this dog?"
I could take the opportunity to get angry about it, or I could take the opportunity to educate.
And so that gave me an opportunity to share about women veterans and combat traumas.
And not every wounds are visible.
Sorry, Joe, but a lot more of them are more internal or emotional.
-This is more difficult than this.
It just is.
-You know, some of the key places that may be triggers for us, our dogs are there by our sides.
-They're considered mobility devices, much like a prosthetic or a wheelchair or a cane.
I take my dog everywhere with me shy of the grocery store, really, 'cause I don't even like going to the grocery stores.
Like, get in, get out.
-But yeah, absolutely.
It's really the impact.
-Fun fact -- many horses are actually under ADA, and I think birds used to be, but they changed the policy.
Ron, what do you think about bringing parrots back as service animals?
-If there was a credible certification program, I can say yes without a doubt.
I have seen several of them trained to perform service animal tasks.
-I have a lady that's wheelchair-bound.
She drops her cellphone.
She drops her shoes, bird runs over, picks them up, climbs up and hands them back to her.
It can be done.
You know, we can all take lessons from the animals around us.
They love us unconditionally for who we are.
And we know that we can unleash our burdens on them.
And they'll be there for us no matter what.
And it isn't a matter of getting over something but finding something that helps you get through it and how to carry forward with it.
And whether that's with the leash of a service animal like Charlie or beautiful little Galaxy here or, you know, our horses who love us unconditionally and our parrots who are there by our side, having the opportunity to embrace that.
So, Charlie, come, here.
Well, thank you so much for coming.
And I really appreciate your candor and talking openly, and I hope you found this a safe place to do that.
And I appreciate it.
-♪ There will be light ♪ ♪ There is a road ♪ ♪ Marching on ♪ ♪ Coming home ♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪