Sam joined the New York National Guard shortly after the September 11th attacks. Trained as a sniper, Sam quickly rose to the rank of sergeant as a member of the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment.
In October 2004, Sam deployed with his guard unit to Iraq for a year-long combat tour. On July 4th, 2005, Sam was wounded in an IED blast while on patrol just outside of the Green Zone in Baghdad. Near death, Sam’s life was saved by the quick reactions of his platoon medic who stabilized his wounds and evacuated him for further care.
Within days of his injury, Sam underwent more than 40 surgeries. The severe blast wounds Sam sustained left him with limited left arm mobility and no use of his left hand, which was eventually amputated in December of 2008.
“The VA gave me what I needed to survive. Canine Companions for Independence gave me what I need to live,” explains Sam.
In February 2010 Canine Companions gave Sam Service Dog Gillian. Gillian not only acts as his missing left hand, but in so doing, is saving his right hand.
“All the health problems I have now are because of excessive wear and tear of my right hand, arm and shoulder. Anything that Gillian can do for me, means less exertion on my right side,” Sam shares.
Gillian helps Sam by picking up items, opening doors and flipping light switches. And so much more.
“Gillian is my teammate. She holds me accountable. She’ll give me 100% all the time, and I have to take care of her. I have to stay active and make sure she gets daily exercise. I have to get out of bed everyday and make sure she eats,” Sam continues. “She’s there for me if I need her to pick up my keys, or if I just need to pet her to feel better. She loves to work hard, but she also knows when I just need to take a break and relax.”
This week, Sam had the incredible opportunity to spend a few days mountain biking in west Texas. While Gillian didn’t accompany Sam on his recent trip to Texas, Sam was joined by former President George W. Bush, who was the host of the Warrior 100k Mountain Bike ride at Lajitas Golf Resort near Big Bend State Park. The event was held in honor of the warriors that suffered severe injuries during the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fourteen wounded warriors participated, along with Lance Armstrong, on the three-day bike ride.
Sam is also leading the newly formed Long Island volunteer chapter for Canine Companions and has been a great spokesperson, spreading the word on how assistance dogs can help wounded veterans live independently. Learn more about the Wounded Veteran Initiative and read more great veteran stories.