It began with the need to do something. To make a difference.
A dedicated group of volunteers with the Mid-Atlantic Field Office of Operation Homefront, concerned about the heartbreaking statistics surrounding veteran suicides, approached the Field Office staff with an idea. As part of their annual fundraising efforts, they wanted to support Operation Homefront – and support the training of a service dog for veterans recovering from physical and psychological wounds.
Though not a need addressed by Operation Homefront programs, the Operation Homefront Mid-Atlantic team knew they could help, as they are active in supporting the needs of families at Walter Reed and Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Belvoir. They also knew an organization that worked with service animals. And so began a unique partnership between Operation Homefront, the community, and the non-profit Warrior Canine Connection.
After 18 months of planning and fundraising solely by the volunteers with support from Operation Homefront, their wish became reality Wednesday as Operation Homefront presented Warrior Canine Connection with a check for $25,000 to cover the cost of training a puppy named Hipsley at Fort Belvoir.
Hipsley is named in honor of Army Sgt. Christian Joseph Hipsley, an Army medic who graduated from Hannah More Academy in Baltimore in 2000. He was known as an individual who cared deeply for people and who found uncommon courage. Sgt. Hipsley’s 13 years of service entailed three tours of duty in the Middle East, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. Sgt. Hipsley was awarded the Bronze Star in 2011 for his efforts in saving five Afghan National Army soldiers after the caravan he was riding in was struck by consecutive IED blasts. When the book was closed on his Army career, Sgt. Hipsley had earned the Bronze Star with Combat Distinguished Valor and the Army Commendation Medal. The soldier lost his battle with PTSD in 2014 at age 32.
Sgt. Hipsley’s mother, Jane, was in attendance as it was announced that a puppy would carry on the memory of her son by helping others. Over the next 2 years, Hipsley and the other purpose-bred Golden and Labrador Retrievers will each empower 60 returning wounded combat Veterans. After this period, Hipsley will be permanently assigned.
“The beauty behind this is the connection between the community and donors who take the initiative to get involved, and the collaboration between non-profits. It is the community coming together,” said Vivian Dietrich, Regional Director. “And at the end of the day, our mission of building strong stable and secure military families will be realized through the work of Hipsley with the Fort Belvoir families.”
Cyndi Lucas, Communications Outreach Leader for Operation Homefront Mid-Atlantic added, “It was unique opportunity to capture the passion of this group of volunteers. (Hipsley) will touch so many lives”
“We are extremely grateful to the enthusiastic group of volunteers from Operation Homefront’s Mid-Atlantic region who dedicated so much time and energy to raise the funds to train Hipsley at Fort Belvoir,” said Rick Yount, WCC founder and executive director. “In our work to serve more than 3,700 Veterans since WCC started, we have seen firsthand the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy in combating symptoms of PTS and TBI. We are fortunate to have partners, like Operation Homefront, who are equally committed to supporting our nation’s Veterans and their families.”
About Warrior Canine Connection: Warrior Canine Connection is a pioneering organization that utilizes a Mission Based Trauma Recovery model to empower returning combat Veterans who have sustained physical and psychological wounds while in service to our country. Based on the concept of Warriors helping Warriors, WCC’s therapeutic service dog training program is designed to mitigate symptoms of PTSD, TBI, and other challenges, while giving injured combat Veterans a sense of purpose, help in reintegrating back into their families and communities, and a potential career path as a service dog trainer. For more information, go to www.warriorcanineconnection.org.