FILMS > TO BE OF SERVICE
Director: Josh Aronson
Producers: Josh Aronson and Julie Sayres
Executive Producers: Carolyn Powers and
Production Manager: Jim Brennan
Director of Photography: Frank Stanley
A Production of
Aronson Film Associates
TO BE OF SERVICE is a feature-length documentary film about war veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( PTSD) who are paired with a service dog to help them come back to their lives. A vet's experience of returning home is often wrought with depression and a wrenching disconnect from the world they once inhabited. Family, old friends and jobs seem foreign and the newly returned vets struggle to function and find normality. While various therapeutic programs are available, it's evident that our Veteran's Administration has a decidedly mixed record in the treatment of PTSD.
To Be Of Service explores the remarkably consistent support found by introducing trained service dogs into the lives of ex-soldiers with PTSD. These relationships have restored the ability for many soldiers to navigate their days comfortably and independently, to help them sleep and to restore their ability to feel safe, to trust and to love. The unconditional support offered by these dogs become the bedrock for our veterans to engage with the outside world which leads them home.
In To Be Of Service we will meet several veterans and their service dogs who offer a touching and uplifting return to the lives of the men we send into the maw.
It is not our intention to question why mankind has always waged war, nor will we try to proselytize on ways to stop it. Rather, our film provides a nuanced perspective on what happens to people who are forced to endure the traumatizing violence of war and how service dogs can aid them in their struggle to come home.
It is our hope that the viewer will glean a deeper understanding of what can happen to soldiers in war and that this wisdom will heighten the call for a resounding "pause" before we leap into the next violent engagement as we ask, "What is the price?"
TO BE OF SERVICE~ Our veterans
Greg, 46, was born in Poland and came to the U.S. at age 14. He enlisted in the army 5 days after 9/11, determined to be an asset to his adopted country. He did three tours in Iraq and, according to his mother, the happy young man who was her son never returned. Greg was so traumatized by the violence he experienced as an infantry soldier that he came home broken, unable to engage or face the world. PTSD defined him.
In spite of treatment at the New York VA and heavy medication, Greg continued to live with unbearable survivor guilt about his comrades who never made it home. After an attempted suicide that left him in a coma for 19 days, his despair deepened. Frustrated that he would never fully recover, when he heard about A service dog program in Connecticut called Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD), he decided to apply.
Greg went to Connecticut to be paired and trained with his dog, a Golden Retriever he named Valor. They bonded quickly and they now live in Rockaway Beach, New York, with Greg's mother. With his trigger of open spaces, residue of Iraq, Greg has to this day never taken a walk on the beach. He hopes Valor will help him get there.
Darryl, a decorated war veteran joined the reserves in 1989 and deployed to Iraq during Desert Storm, and later to Afghanistan. Though he was not in regular combat, he experienced unrelenting stress and the total adrenalin dump of 75 rocket attacks on his first tour which started his PTSD. He had a buddy in Iraq who he ate lunch with daily, save for one, a day he'll never forget. They had an argument that day and, in a huff, his friend skipped their lunch, took off and stepped on an IED, maiming him for life. Though he "knows" it wasn't his "fault," Darryl re-lives that day endlessly and is haunted by guilt to this day - more seeds of PTSD.
Between deployments, he became a State Trooper in Georgia, where the carnage he saw as a first responder (especially children killed in car accidents) added to the PTSD which took hold of him with a vice-like grip.
After 20 plus years in the military and the police, his PTSD diagnosis disqualified him for duty, and he was forced to retire. He soon came to feel his life had no purpose. He wasn't happy, he wasn't relating to his family and he had lost friends. Between the meds he was prescribed at the VA and a series of therapists, he was losing hope. A new idea was presented to him - to get a service dog. Darryl found K9's For Warriors in Jacksonville, Florida, and after over a year on the waiting list, was recently paired with his beautiful black Labrador, Bella. Darryl is hoping that with her help he will be able to manage his PTSD symptoms without his meds and return to being the husband and father he was before he left for war.
Darryl is 46 and lives in a suburb of Atlanta with his wife, Cindy and his two teenage daughters.
Tom was a self described "door kicker" in the army, stationed in Iraq in 2007-2008. He was an airborne soldier, Corporal E4 and the recipient of the Combat Action Badge. Today, suffering from physical pain from injuries sustained in action and the emotional pains of PTSD, he rarely leaves home except for the twice a day walk to take his daughter to school and pick her up. He says accomplishing that daily mission is like drowning.
Taking multiple medications, Tom is a virtual shut in and to avoid his anger and panic attacks he distracts himself playing video games much of every day. He wishes with all his heart that he could be employed but knows that in his present state he is too disabled. Clearly, the total support of his wife and the deeply loving relationship with his daughter are the anchors in Tom's life and, he says, have saved him from multiple suicide attempts. Tom lights up with his daughter, and watching her natural ability to support her father with her love is utterly beautiful and will be a central theme in Tom's story.
Tom will soon be receiving a service dog from K9's For Warriors and hopes that the new relationship will help him manage his rage, reduce his meds and make him more independent.
Tom is 32 and lives in Billings, Montana with his wife and 7 year old daughter.
Sylvia joined the army after 9/11 and ended up doing three tours in Iraq as an army journalist. She left her young son behind in California so she could serve her country, but what she didn't think about before enlisting, was what it would be like as a female in a fraternity of male soldiers.
She was ill-equipped for the sexual harassment she experienced, the constant adrenaline release from the rockets aimed into the Green Zone and the amount of death she witnessed.
Returning home, the slightest sound made her jump, her anxiety and panic attacks were constant and she developed a stutter for the first time in her life. Her son hardly recognized her. She was admitted into a psychiatric hospital, misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on stupefying amounts of medications that made her feel like a zombie for 5 years. Finally being properly diagnosed with PTSD, she began to receive better treatment and slowly emerged from her fog. Then, someone suggested that a service dog could be a next step towards forging a pathway to managing life better.
Sylvia was matched with a black Labrador retriever named Timothy who has helped her live a fuller life pursuing her dream of becoming a professional writer. She's currently in a masters writing program and has written a novel and short stories about her experiences in Iraq. With Timothy's support, her relationships with her husband and son has improved greatly and she has learned how to manage her panic attacks, quell her anxiety and begun to feel whole again.
Sylvia lives in Wisconsin with her husband, a military surgeon.
Glenn is well aware that 22 veterans commit suicide everyday, as he was almost one of them. He's a tough guy who was raised on Long Island by a tough guy, but had never gotten into a fight before he was deployed to Iraq. He returned from the war an adrenaline junkie- riding his motorcycle drunk at 100 mph, getting into bar brawls and looking for conflict in order to feel alive. His life was ruled by adrenaline and PTSD.
Glenn was a Navy Corpsman stationed with the Marines. He experienced so much trauma that he came home changed and damaged. As he says, "They spend millions to make us warriors and pennies to teach us to return home to civilian life."
Despite being heavily medicated by the VA to treat his PTSD, he lost all his friends and was hyper-vigilant towards the unknown that he still felt threatened him. Ashamed of his explosive behavior, he rarely went out. His anxiety was off the charts, he couldn't be around people and life seemed unmanageable with no way out.
Glenn's life began to change when he was paired with his service dog, Indy. He found a new girlfriend, his rage began to diminish and he now rides his motorcycle "like an adult, not a suicide bomber." Instead of bottling up his feelings and hiding his PTSD, Glenn now talks about them to raise awareness about veteran suicide prevention and holds benefits to raise money for service dogs.
Glenn is 36 years old and lives in Fort Jefferson, Long Island.
Phil joined the army to "make a difference and to have a voice." While deployed, he was badly injured in a horrific helicopter accident that ended up costing him a leg. Upon his return he was diagnosed with PTSD and the symptoms led to his divorce. Feeling as though he was losing the battle with PTSD, he attempted suicide and need up in a psych ward.
After being thrown out of the Wounded Warrior program in Florida for smoking pot, a friend suggested he get a service dog. Phil was paired with his dog Reese, who helped relieve his anxiety and made him feel safe and secure both in public and at home . Reese even brought Phil's prosthetic leg to the side of the bed every morning.
When Reese died of cancer at age 8, things took a turn for the worse for Phil. After 8 months, he finally decided to get another service dog, Champagne, aka Champ. Though he still has dark days when he doesn't leave the house, he once again has a battle buddy. When Phil has a nightmare, Champ licks his arms to wake him up and cuddle. Phil says, "I melt into her and just love her and slowly get started with my day. No matter how ugly I feel in the morning, she softens it."
Phil is 41 and lives in upstate New York.
Chris Markowski, a Marine, did two tours in Iraq and was exposed to a level of violence so intense he was unable to adjust upon his return. Aside from mobility challenges resulting from injuries, he had trouble controlling his anger, panic attacks and his hyper-vigilance. In addition, a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) caused seizures. Though he was prescribed medication, his mood swings and irritability increased.
Chris described his emotional state when he came home as "water rafting without a raft." His relationship with his wife was fraught and he felt hopeless. Then he discovered Peaceful Paws, which trains service dogs for veterans, and met his beloved pit-bull, Einarr, who keeps Chris centered, calms his anxiety, panic attacks and irritability. He's also allowed Chris to reduce his medication and alerts him to seizures. Chris's relationship to his wife has improved and he's become a trainer in the program.