The recipient of the dog, named Glory, was retired special operations Staff Sgt. Bryan Buckingham. Before he received the dog, special operations Staff Sgt. Chris Atchley honored his friend and fellow soldier.
Ken and Trista Lyons with Service Dogs of Florida, based in Winter Garden, Fla., trained the dog. Each service dog costs $30,000 and there is currently a shortage of service dogs for veterans in the U.S.
Fallen Soldiers March played host to the event, which featured several guest speakers, including retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dennis D. Cavin.
“I’m just an old soldier who treasures every minute to be with those men and women who put a uniform on,” Cavin said. “Freedom isn’t free…it’s not until that phrase comes home to rest, in one’s heart and mind because of the sacrifices of one’s family, friend or partner. Freedom isn’t free because of the immense sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. That sacrifice transcends years and decades.”
Cavin said Isiah 6:8 says, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘who shall I send and who will go for us?’ The American soldier has always said, ‘here I am Lord. Send me.”
Buckingham, was initially assigned to the 101st Airborne’s Screaming Eagles, and later with the one of the most deployed units in the U.S. Army – the 2nd of the 160th. He was also a part of the Special Operations Aviation Regiment. He has received a number of honors during his service.
He retired in December 2013. Currently, he attends Austin Peay State University and majors in international business studies.
“John 15:3 captures the real sentiment of our recipient today,” Cavin said. “Greater love has no one than this that someday will lay down his life for his friends.”
Atchley said that he – like Buckingham – suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and service dogs help with that issue. The two met when they both served with the 160th.
They spent nine tours together in Afghanistan and flew more than 300 missions.
“I want to thank Bryan for not only being there for me and doing the right thing, but also for being a friend and saving my life on multiple occasions. Without that, I wouldn’t be able to talk about you, brother,” Atchley said.
Buckingham said so much happens so quickly that soldiers don’t have time to think about what goes on in combat until they’re away from it. Then, it begins to build up.
“It’s a lot of built-up trauma. It’s a Rolodex of faces, bodies, blood, people, nightmares…it doesn’t go away,” Buckingham said. “It haunts you. You’ve been touched by war. It will never go away. You can only learn to live with it and embrace it. But I can tell you, if I had the opportunity, I’d be right back out there again.”
He said he looks forward to working with the dog.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I just ask that if you see someone out there with a service dog to not be judgmental. Understand they have issues, but everyone is working through them in their own way. We’re all just human beings trying to live with what we’ve been through.
The Fallen Soldiers March seeks to inspire and revive patriotism across America by honoring fallen heroes, veterans, active duty and reserve United States Armed Forces. Events and online donations help provide service dogs for wounded veterans. For more information, visit fallensoldiersmarch.com.