Showsight Presents the Schipperke

NITTANY: A SCHIPPERKE’S STORY

While it devastated me, it also galvanized me. One of the prereq- uisites to take part in the school I was attending was that you had to be made an emancipated minor at the age of fifteen because you were required to travel from the high school campus to the university campus daily, and that way the school wasn’t responsible for you. I knew that I would be graduating halfway through my senior year, so I took my ASVAB test and scored nothing lower than a ninety-five on all portions. All branches courted me, and I listened to them all. One afternoon, I went to the Marine Corps recruit- ing station and signed my contract. I was put in the delayed entry program until I graduated and turned seventeen. When I got home that evening, I quietly put my signed contract on the table during dinner and told both of my grandparents and my parents that I would do my service before furthering my education. I had enlisted in the Marines and would be leaving for boot camp after gradua- tion, instead of university. My mother shocked me—she told me I was an ass and left the table. My father, on the other hand, looked me in the eye and asked me why I chose the Marines. I looked at him and told him I saw no reason to settle for second best. I watched as he swallowed impish mirth before he told me that it was okay. Nothing more was ever said. So, three weeks after I turned seventeen, I left for boot camp and began my Marine Corps career. Halfway through boot camp they found out that I had a strong gift for language, and began the back- ground checks for my security clearance. At the end of boot camp, I had a Secret, Top Secret, and was waiting on a Category One. By the end of my first school I not only had my Cat One, but was now being sent to immersion school for Russian, and on to Intel school. In less than a year I was an Intel Linguist. I spoke three lan- guages already and was finishing immersion school for the fourth. After school I was sent to a duty station close to my husband’s, and learned very quickly that any time there was a conflict in any coun- try where one of my languages was spoken (or was allied to one that did) and where we had boots on the ground, I was deployed to a grunt unit there to serve as translator and to gather intel. There were things I saw, things I experienced, things we did that no human being should. I was so young and so much of it haunted me, but I said nothing. At twenty, I watched the CH-46 carrying my hus- band go down, pilots and crew all perished. I escorted his body back to the States, and then on to his family home. After the funeral, I requested and was granted a humanitarian transfer closer to home. I think the Corps had been waiting for an opportunity just like this. Within weeks, I had Yankee White and Eyes Only clearances added and found myself at the Pentagon. We affectionately called where we worked at the Pentagon, the War Room. A dungeon room, no windows, no brightness, where we spent our shifts intercepting, translating, and decoding messages, then assigning them the importance they afforded and made sure they went to the right desks. I quickly became the go-to because of the number of languages I spoke and my ability to pick up dialects in those languages. Because we were there, it didn’t change the frequent deployments to hostile theaters. And by the time I was twenty-six, I was leaving three children with my sister when I left. When I returned from Iraq for a third time, Desert Storm had really started becoming a full-scale war, and I was greatly changed. I started being unable to handle life. I wasn’t sleeping, I couldn’t leave base (thankfully, I had a house in base housing), and I kept looking for where the next danger was coming from. I lost a lot of weight and I wasn’t able to take care of my children the way I needed to. In short, after fifteen years of hostile theaters, the Gulf War, and Desert Storm, I had full-blown PTSD.

A few months later, we also found out that I had breast cancer. My career with the Corps came to a screeching halt. My God- father, a Vietnam vet himself, took stock of what was going on with me and gave me the greatest gift I was ever given. He knew that with PTSD, an illness, and losing my career and the safety of everything I had known, I was going to need help. So, calling a breeder and the training classes necessary down here, he put every- thing in place, never saying a word to me. He bought me a Schipperke pup and arranged for her delivery, and paid for the classes for her to be my service and therapy dog. I received a call from the local pet store one day in early spring. I didn’t understand why they would be calling because I had not bred my Siamese, so they had no reason to call. So over lunch, two of my younger Marines and I ran out to the mall where there was not only the pet store, but also the store that was engraving plaques and specialty gifts for a retirement ceremony that was upcoming. When we made our final stop at the pet store, the girl went into the back and came out with a small, round ball of black fur with the brightest eyes I had ever seen. Under her arm she had a rather bulky folder. When she went to hand the animal to me, I backed up and asked her just what she had and why she was giving it to me. I had never had a dog and had absolutely no idea why she wanted to give it to me. My Corporal reached out and took the pup so that the girl could talk to me and give me instructions. When she opened the folder, on the very top, was a letter from my Godfather. He had explained that he was giving me a service dog to help me because he loved me. The last thing he wanted to see was me falling apart and losing everything like so many veterans. I sat there stunned, trying to wrap my mind around everything. The veterinarian who worked with the pet store sat down with me and explained everything he thought I needed to know about the breed, what to expect, and how to work with her. The paper- work had the pup’s papers from the breeder, the records of all her shots, and her physical. The other paperwork was all of the instruc- tions I would need for her to attend classes, not just for service dog training, but also therapy dog classes. The catch was that I had to attend the classes with her. Just listening to all the information and taking in all the responsibility was overwhelming. I could feel myself starting to panic. I looked at the puppy my Corppral was holding. She was so tiny—small enough to put in the cargo pocket of Cammie trou- sers. He was talking to her and it looked like she understood every- thing, every word he said. In all the chaos and noise, she was calm and aware. I reached for her, and the moment I held her it was instant love. She cocked her head, looked right into my eyes, then she just snuggled into my chest.

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