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    From bombing to breeding: How war took a Soldier’s life to a new beginning

    From bombing to breeding:  How war took a Soldier’s life to a new beginning

    Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Ashleigh Martinez | Maj. Jim Markham, 1st Cavalry Division Operations Research Systems Analyst, and...... read more read more

    Every Soldier experiences war differently but it leaves them all with a similar outcome -- change. And that change can take a Soldier’s life to a new beginning.

    Charles “Chuck” Ziegenfuss has a life today that started during a foot patrol in Baqubah, Iraq, nearly 16 years ago.

    “It was my third deployment, my first combat deployment,” Chuck said. “I found an IED from three feet from where I was walking - well I didn’t find it, that was sort of the problem; it just went off.”

    Chuck died twice on his way to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

    “They revived me both times and like I’ve said, I’ve died twice, but I got better,” he said. “I spent many months in the hospital trying to get well enough to return to duty, which I eventually did.”

    With several months spent in the hospital and undergoing surgeries that would eventually total near 80, it wasn’t until 2006 that Chuck’s wife, Carren, gave him the gift to recovery he didn’t know he needed: A dog named Major.

    “Major became, most accidentally, my first service dog,” Chuck writes on his webpage.

    Chuck’s son, Creighton, and daughter, Adelle, chose the name Major in honor of their father’s recent promotion. The Majors grew close and were inseparable until 2011 when Chuck was put on orders to deploy to Afghanistan.

    “While I was there, my wife sent me a message … "Honey, Major is sick, I need you to call me. My heart sank,” he said. “I called as soon as I could. Major was in the hospital; his liver was failing. He would need a liver transplant to survive, and that was not a guarantee. Even if he did survive, he'd always be very weak and would likely only live a few years. A transplant would cost us over ten-thousand dollars and just wasn't in the cards for us; I had to let him go.”

    Letting go of Major hit a new reality for Chuck after he returned home from Afghanistan. Despite the time with family and being away from the stressors of combat, “there was huge hole left in my life,” he said.

    Filling the hole Major left became the first step on a long-distance life journey.

    “When I came home, I had a devil of a time getting another service dog, because of wait lists and things like that and the more I looked into it and asked around I found that the long pole in the tent was sourcing quality dogs,” he said. “So, I decided to train my own.”

    And he did. Halia, a Hawaiian word meaning “in memory of a loved one” would become Chuck’s companion who he would become close with just like Major.

    Still, Chuck had kept an interest in the breeding and sourcing of service dogs for wounded warriors and first responders. He found the opportunity to make another step forward in 2015.

    “When I retired, I realized I wasn’t done serving and decided that I wanted to do something about that hard fill of dogs that’ll go into a program with a high chance of graduating and becoming a service dog,” he said. “It takes a very specific skillset to do what these dogs do.”

    Problem was, despite hours of research and looking into breeders, Chuck could not find breeders breeding to the qualities necessary for a successful service dog.

    “I decided if it wasn't happening, I was going to make it happen,” he said. “I've had to relearn how to walk, how hard can it be compared to that?”

    The family moved to Decatur, Texas. Their 5-acre property, complete with a home and two barns -- one converted into a kennel -- is where Chuck founded Hero Labradors, a non-profit organization that breeds Labrador retriever puppies for skillsets to do the job.

    “What we’re breeding for is intelligence, aptitude, demeanor and size so these dogs can grow to become mobility dogs, PTSD dogs, TBI dogs, MST dogs - you name it, and they’re like the swiss army knife of dogs,” he said. “What I’ve done is created a breeding program and a fundamental raising program that we raise them through 8-10 weeks old, but dogs are learning from the moment they come out of the womb.”

    Chuck says the socialization from birth is a key factor to the training they will receive to become service dogs. It is also a measure of what program he places the puppy into at 8-10 weeks of age.

    Chuck has driven more than 30-thousand miles and flown nearly 6-thousand miles to take his puppies to the right program for the right recipient. He says, “If they need dogs, I put them in the van and I take them there.”

    There’s only one rule. The programs given puppies from Chuck must donate the service dog to wounded warriors and first responders for free.

    Once the puppies are placed into their training program, Chuck’s work is done, but the outcome is what lasts.

    “I don’t get paid to do this,” he said. “Seeing how it’s affected other service members is my whole reward. It’s seeing them bond with the dog, following them on Facebook or where ever and seeing how it’s really changing their lives so much for the better. And they’ll tell you, you know, ‘The day I received Jenny was the day my life started again.’ They’re going out, they’re doing things, they’re being with people, because they have that source of, not just comfort, but assistance -- you’re giving somebody a fur covered prosthetic.”

    Recently, Chuck and an Army friend he served with at the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii, are seeing a plan unfold they hatched together years ago.

    “Chuck has been looking for an outside dog to breed into his program for a while and we got Makai when we were stationed in California and so we kept him intact to be able to breed him with Chuck’s dogs,” said Maj. Jim Markham, 1st Cavalry Division Operations Research Systems Analyst.

    Chuck’s determination has paid off and with Markham’s involvement, Hero Labradors has bred 72 puppies for service with a projection to see their 100th puppy by the end of the year. Their puppies have a 98 percent success rate.

    Markham said he carefully selected his own Labrador, Makai, just to help Chuck’s breeding line diversify and grow.

    “I’m grateful to be a part of that because I know Chuck had a service dog that helped him after he got injured in Iraq and that’s what formed the nexus of him wanting to do this in retirement,” Markham said. “So, just being able to help provide that help to keep the breeding line going into the future and keep producing good dogs for veterans and first responders.”

    Markham was reunited with Makai after a couple months with Chuck and his family to breed. The result was 14 healthy puppies who came to spend a couple hours with First Team Troopers at the Division Headquarters. Chuck says the socialization is good training and joked about how puppies are like Soldiers.

    “Some will be food driven, some will be play driven and some will be praise driven,” he said. “Some puppies will come to you just because you start clapping, the other ones are like ‘You got food?’ - They’re a lot like Soldiers that way.”

    Chuck has committed his life to service and found change, despite the circumstance, can take your life to where it needs to go.

    “I can’t really see myself doing anything else - and I’m giving back and maybe giving forward … but, I spent a lifetime caring for Soldiers. This brings me joy.”



    Date Taken: 03.19.2021
    Date Posted: 03.22.2021 21:34
    Story ID: 392016
    Location: FORT HOOD, TX, US 
    Hometown: DECATUR, TX, US

    Web Views: 577
    Downloads: 0