JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --
The month of September is dedicated to raising awareness and showing appreciation for the service dogs that take care of their humans. Originally known as National Guide Dog Month, National Service Dog Month was first established in 2008 by actor, animal advocate, and founder of a pet food company, Dick Van Patten.
The 433rd Airlift Wing came to know Andrew Camplen by his affiliation with the VFW and his participation in the Alamo Wing’s Honorary Commanders Program. When you first meet this 6’1” tall, strapping guy with a full beard, from all appearances, he looks like a man who can take care of himself.
And by all accounts, his resume speaks for itself: a former Air Force aircraft structural maintenance specialist and Persian Gulf War Vet, and he knows first-hand the contributions and the role service dogs play in support of veterans.
Camplen served in the United States Air Force from 1989 to 1994; while serving, he deployed to Al-Kharj Saudi Arabia, with the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing provisional, a squadron of F-15Cs, F-15Es, F-16 Cs and Ds, and EF-111 aircraft.
After his stint in the Air Force, Camplen again took another oath to serve by joining the San Antonio police department, where he served 24 years as an officer and a police detective.
According to the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle said, “Everything happens for a reason, always. Every experience in your life is designed to shape you and help you grow into the highest and mightiest version of yourself.”
After retiring from the police department, his journey was not over. Camplen got another call to serve. He volunteered with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and became District 13 Commander Post Commander of the Pvt. Bruno Phillip VFW, Post 688, which led him to become the director of client services at the United States Veterans Service Dogs, and meeting his service dog, Sebastian.
Camplen recalls being at the VFW State Convention the past year. “During the convention, while I was preparing the room. He remembers the service dogs being there. Cody Bellanger, the CEO, director of training, and founder of USVSD, dog trainers, and all the service dogs, were there at the event,” said Camplen.
“I had a million things to do, but suddenly I stopped and began paying attention to what was going on in the room. I got this warm feeling all over my body. Both eyes started tearing up, and tears were falling down my cheeks, and I thought; I got to fill out an application.”
“I’ve waited so many years and ignored a lot of things; I didn’t want to go down the path with the V.A., which seemed to be a dead-end path. I thought here is my solution.”
During wars, even though people don’t realize they can be exposed to many different types of traumatic events, that raises the chances of developing mental health problems, like post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression—and poorer life outcomes as adults.
Like with Camplen, many veterans do not realize that they are at a high risk of developing trauma-related disorders such as PTSD. And their symptoms do not always show immediately; they sometimes appear years later.
He recalls a time during his deployment in support of Desert Storm.
“I was single and lived in the dorms when they (leadership) told us to pack up our dorm rooms because they were expecting 50% casualties. When we got over there and got our base all set up, we got our airplanes squared away we started producing bombs and missiles. Twenty minutes after the last aircraft took off. We started hearing air raid sirens, alarm red, which means we got incoming. Iraq was shooting Scuds at us. To me, it was fun. We were all proud to be there and proud to serve. You never want it to shut it off, and when it was over, and when we went back, how do you get the thrill of war again.”
After completing his application during the VFW convention, it was not too long after that the V.A. awarded him a service dog.
Camplen remembers that day. “I was sitting in a chair waiting on my dog to be delivered. And I have to say that Monday, graduation day, I was very much the same position as the night of the convention. My heart was pounding, and the adrenaline rush, and then Sebastian was walked into the room by his trainer. I felt this overwhelming sense of taking the first step down another major path in my life. He (Sebastian) was going to be my buddy for life.”
A study by Richard Weinmeyer, J.D., MA, MPhil, a senior research associate with the American Medical Association Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs in Chicago. It showed that pairing assistance dogs with soldiers revealed that service dogs could “significantly reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress, and depression in veterans,” Furthermore, having a service dog created better interpersonal relationships, lower substance abuse, and fewer psychiatric symptoms than veterans without dogs.
Camplen was placed with his service dog, Sebastian, in August of 2019, so he knows first-hand the love and the hard work that goes into raising and training a service dog.
As the director of client services, Camplen operates the U.S. Veterans Service Dogs graduation facility in Bergheim, Texas. “This position makes Andrew the perfect choice to work with our applicants and graduates,” said Bellanger.
“The most important part is that Andrew is a former USVSD graduate. His role is vital in providing the best experience before, during, and after a veteran’s placement with a service dog to help them find their new normal.”
“I want to say thank you to the USVSD,” said Camplen. “The first time the VFW caught me when I was falling, and this time USVSD caught me, and just like with the VFW, I am forever grateful.”
See Andrew & Sebastian’s story visit: https://vimeo.com/407620489
For more information, United States Veterans Service Dogs visit: https://www.usveteransservicedogs.org/about/