Veteran explains life before and after receiving service dog
By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville Observer | Published: November 2, 2019
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — After serving 12 years in the Army, Raeford veteran Preston Jackson Jr. credits his canine to saving his life.
It was just a couple of months ago that Jackson was paired with his service dog Pilot through K9s for Warriors.
In just that short time-frame, Jackson credits Pilot for helping him cope with his post-traumatic stress disorder and wants to share with other veterans about how the canine has given him hope.
Originally from South Philadelphia, Jackson was raised by his grandmother, Josephine Wilson, and godfather, Robert Ferrante.
Jackson said he never got into trouble as a kid and worked various jobs that included even walking neighbor's dogs.
At the end of his 11th grade year in school, Jackson decided to drop out to "make money."
He soon found not having a diploma hindered his job opportunities for full-time positions he wanted.
He says: "As a young man growing up in South Philadelphia, I was always told the military wasn't the place for a black man and I sort of believed that growing up until I saw a few of the older brothers that I knew of, and they were in the military and came back in their Class A-s, and I always wish that I could do it."
Jackson went to night school and earned his diploma in two months. He joined the Army on May 10, 1995, starting out with field artillery.
After training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and going through airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia, his first duty station was at Camp Casey, Korea.
He was assigned to Fort Bragg in 1996, where he changed his military occupation specialty to become an armament crew member for Kiowa OH-58 helicopters.
His next duty station in 1999 was in Germany.
By that time, he had his first son, Kytel Collins-Jackson. His second son, Nyjel, was born in December 1999.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Jackson was assigned to Macedonia, returned back to Fort Bragg in 2002 and was assigned to a Black Hawk helicopter unit to deploy to Kandahar, Afghanistan at the end of 2002.
"I experienced a lot of things there. I won't get into too much detail, but it was the first time I lost somebody. We lost our captain over there," Jackson said.
After the deployment, he'd deploy with a Kiowa unit to Iraq in 2006 and was stationed in Mosul.
"When I was there, I had sniper fire many times, mortar rounds — constantly getting 8 to 10 mortars a day the whole time I was there," Jackson said.
After returning back to the states in June 2007, Jackson made the decision to not reenlist, as he had surgery at Camp Qatar from a meniscus knee tear he had from an airborne jump right before the deployment.
Jackson got out of the Army at the end of September 2007.
While he was in the Army, his wife at the time had completed a basic law enforcement training course, and found a job in Scotland County.
Jackson told the sheriff at the time he would work for him, because the sheriff hired his wife.
After completing his own basic law enforcement training, Jackson was hired as a bailiff in November 2008, and became a school resource officer for more than four years because he requested a job that would allow him to work with children.
By 2014 a new sheriff was elected, and Jackson said 16 people including himself and his wife were let go.
"I didn't talk a lot, and I didn't take a lot of nonsense. They were trying to figure out what was wrong with me," he said of a few coworkers. "At the time I didn't even know that PTSD was causing these problems — the snapping, yelling at folks, having short patience, not wanting to be around groups."
Jackson went back to Sandhills Community College, where he had gone through his basic law enforcement training, and went through the culinary program.
Though starting to feel physical pain, he wanted to motivate younger classmates and didn't wear his knee braces to class.
During an evaluation in his senior year, he fell in the kitchen and asked his classmates to bring him the ingredients so he could finish the project.
Soon after, Jackson was going through a divorce and said he sunk into a deep depression and isolated, as both his sons were in college.
"I was talking to other people like the medicine wasn't working. The classes wasn't working. What about other options?"
Jackson said another veteran he met at the Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Health Care Center, told him about service dogs.
His son looked online and found K9 for Warriors.
Founded in 2011 by Shari Duval, K9s For Warriors is a national nonprofit that takes eligible shelter dogs and trains them to be service dogs for post 9/11 veterans and service members with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and/or military sexual trauma.
After applying for the program, Jackson left for the three-week, in-house training program in Florida that is no cost to veterans.
"You go through an interview process again to make sure they got the right dog," Jackson said.
Jackson believes he found that "right dog," in Pilot, who was a dog surrendered to the Bradford County Animal Control in Florida and sponsored by the Karpus Family Foundation.
"As soon as I saw him, he jumped up in my arms," Jackson said. "I got down and we connected like bam! I mean literally we connected right then and there, and I felt this sense of relief like, 'Wow I finally got here.' I was crying," Jackson said.
Jackson remembers the first day of training was rough on his back and knees, but an instructor encouraged him to "fight through," it if he wanted the dog.
Jackson said he believes Pilot is able to pick up on his emotions and gives him cues if needs to leave a situation, or has woken him up during the night when he's forgotten to wear his sleep apnea machine.
"The things I was having problems — being around people, trusting society, bracing myself — these are all the things he can do, looking out for me, not allowing me to engage in the stuff that's going to cause me to be depressed or have high anxiety," Jackson said.
Jackson said as a service dog, when Pilot has on his vest, strangers and friends should not pet or feed Pilot.
"The reason why we ask you to not touch the dog is so that you don't distract him from doing his job," Jackson said. "And the whole thing is as severe as my PTSD is — a sound, a smell, a person yelling, a person's sight reminds me of somebody else — can have go back to I'm on guard now."
Jackson said Pilot is also causing him to get out of his house, which is why he credits K9s for Warriors and wears the organization's logos on shirts to tell other veterans about it.
"I don't want you to walk away from me as somebody who got a dog and be like well he got his dog and he doesn't care about me," Jackson said.
And Jackson said he believes more veterans and soldiers could benefit from service dogs.
"We wouldn't have to euthanize dogs and soldiers' lives would be saved," he said.
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