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Combat veteran, with support from service dog, runs K9s for Warriors new training center

By BETH REESE CRAVEY | The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville | Published: July 14, 2018

JACKSONVILLE, Fla (Tribune News Service) — Randy Dexter downplays his story.

"I'm just a guy with a dog," he said.

But Dexter, a 36-year-old combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, and Captain, his 6 1/2 -year-old service dog, saved each other's lives.

Now they are doing the same for other veterans and canines by working for K9s for Warriors of Ponte Vedra Beach, which provides service dogs for veterans. They are 2014 agency graduates who returned this year to run the nonprofit's new training campus in Alachua.

Dexter said he relished being able to "give back" to K9s and its donors, including The Players Championship's Red Coats community grant program.

"I know what Captain and K9s have done for my life," he said.

Dexter joined the Army at 20, was a combat medic for 11 years and received two Bronze Stars. He deployed to Iraq twice, where in 2005 his squad was hit with an improvised explosive device while driving. He medically retired in 2013 with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

Back home in Nevada, the debilitating symptoms continued, including anxiety and nightmares. PTSD victims can feel such fear they are unable to leave their homes, much less keep jobs.

"I was a prisoner in my own home, self-imposed," Dexter said. "I needed help."

He came to K9s in August 2014 and met Captain, who faced euthanasia before being rescued by the nonprofit and paired with Dexter.

"I cried like a baby. I knew my life was about to change," he said.

They spent three weeks in training. Captain learned the tools of the service-dog trade -- cover, block and brace, as well as be a lap dog when Dexter is having a panic attack. Their partnership helped Dexter regain his confidence and restore his relationships with wife Becky; son Levi, now 16; and daughters Selena, 7, and Sophie, 5. He later earned a bachelor's degree and he and Captain traveled the country advocating for K9s and PTSD service dogs.

At the Alachua center, he meets fellow veterans and recognizes their pain and hope for a new life.

"Being on the other side," he said, "I can see it in their eyes."

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