Military veterans and first responders, referred to as “Sheep Dogs,” have an innate need to serve and help those around them. At Sheep Dog Impact Assistance (“SDIA;” 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 through three programs: Disaster Response Missions, Outdoor Adventures and Holiday Outreach.

SDIA was founded upon Disaster Response Missions (DRMs), and they continue to be our primary continued service opportunity. When a natural disaster strikes, teams of skilled Sheep Dogs and volunteers are deployed to clear trees & debris, perform muck-out operations, distribute food & water, and other tasks, which fulfills their desire to give back and serve. This work improves self-confidence, provides physical challenges, and gives each person a sense of purpose. The camaraderie fostered by being with others who have endured similar experiences is irreplaceable and crucial to healing and a positive perspective. For Michael Nimmo, US Marine, going on DRMs has been helpful in reducing his stress and anxiety, and he is “a better man and leader for the time that I have dedicated to serving others.”

Our Outdoor Adventures program gives Sheep Dogs injured in combat or the line of duty impactful experiences which help them reengage in a healthy lifestyle and improve their well being. Events such as hunting and fishing, skydiving, scuba diving, camping, and obstacle races present them with challenges that test their rehabilitation progress, restore independence, increase self-confidence, and support living life to the fullest. Army Specialist Scott West lost both legs to an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Iraq in December 2005, and struggled with addiction throughout his recovery. Through the Outdoor Adventure program, Scott was sponsored to go skydiving, and the experience helped turn his life around. He credits SDIA with rejuvenating his zest for life in spite of his injuries and struggles. “[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.” Participants also express the value that comes from the camaraderie which occurs during adventures. U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Aaron Mankin, who was severely burned in an IED attack in 2005, says being with fellow Sheep Dogs helped tremendously. “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.”

The Holiday Outreach program provides Sheep Dogs an opportunity to make the holidays brighter for fellow Sheep Dog families who are struggling. By working alongside their peers to collect, pack and distribute Thanksgiving meals and/or Christmas gifts for the children of Sheep Dogs, many find the sense of purpose and continued service they need.

As an organization, we are driven to provide experiences that will have a lasting effect on those who have sacrificed 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 to serve as many of our nation’s “Sheep Dogs” and communities affected by natural disaster as possible.