Giving wounded heroes (“Sheep Dogs”) a new outlook on life

Military veterans and first responders, who we refer to as “Sheep Dogs,” have an innate need to serve and help those around them. At Sheep Dog Impact Assistance (www.sheepdogia.org), we recognize this and strive to provide continued service opportunities that offer the physical challenges and camaraderie that is often missing after a shift or tour of duty ends. We do this through three major programs: Disaster Response Missions, Outdoor Adventures and Holiday Assistance.

Through our Outdoor Adventure Program, Sheep dogs that have been injured in the line of duty are provided with meaningful and impactful experiences which help them reengage in a healthy lifestyle and improve their well being. Through this program Army Specialist Scott West was sponsored to participate in one of our skydiving adventures.

A Life of Recovery

Scott lost both legs to an IED in Iraq in December 2005. After his injury, he endured 38 surgeries in 30 days, and spent time rehabilitating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center prior to medically retiring in 2007. That was just the beginning of his recovery, which led to battling an addiction to prescription medication for many years. This resulted in his wife ending their marriage and Scott losing all contact with his young son. 

During his recovery process, Sheep Impact assistance found him. He became engaged in our Outdoor Adventure Program. West is now clean from addiction, active in his son’s life and volunteers full time with us to help identify other “sheep dogs” for sponsorship in the program. He credits SDIA with rejuvenating his zest for life in spite of his injuries. “[SDIA] helped me realize I can still contribute to my community,” West said, “and that I can realize my true potential by pushing past my perceived limitations.”

When a veteran or first responder who has been injured in the line of duty applies to be a part of our Outdoor Adventure Program, we verify their qualifications to be sponsored and find an activity that fits their interests. These events include hunting and fishing trips, obstacle races, skydiving, scuba diving, camping and more. These adventures present them with challenges that test their rehabilitation progress, restore independence, increase self-confidence, and support living life to the fullest. Participants often express the value that comes from the camaraderie which occurs during adventures.

U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Aaron Mankin states, “Sheep Dog Impact Assistance gave me the chance to exercise a part of myself that these days is often left dormant – the part of me that is proud to be a Marine around other service members.” Cpl. Mankin, was wounded during an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack near the Syrian border in 2005. Six Marines were lost in the attack; Mankin suffered second and third degree burns to his hands, arms and face. Being surrounded by fellow Sheep Dogs turned things around for him, “The healing is so organic that you don’t even realize it’s happening. That’s the beauty of surrounding myself with Sheep Dogs…I realized once again that I am a Sheep Dog. For life.”

As an organization, we are driven to provide experiences that will have a lasting effect on those who have given so much for our freedom. We are thankful for the grant that we have received from the Disabled Veterans National Foundation and how it will improve our ability to continue our mission and serve as many of our nation’s “Sheep Dogs” as possible.