SHARE Military Initiative Graduate Launches Foundation to Train Service Dogs for Veterans with Disabilities
Randall “Randy” Laird, 37, served six years in the U.S.Army, including a hellacioustour of duty in Iraq duringthe battle of Fallujah. A platoon sergeant, Randy served as a fire support specialist attached to a mechanized infantry unit fighting in close-quarters urban combat. It was here that Randy’s traumatic brain injury occurred amidst the use of C4 explosives and enemy attacks using rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices.
“Plain and simple,” Randy says, “my bell got rung too many times.”
Today, as the founder of the Molly Frank Foundation, a nonprofit that trains servicedogs for disabled veterans, Randy does things he never imagined. The training is easy. But media interviews, fundraising, interacting with lots of people all day? Randy says he can handle those stress-inducing tasks thanks to his time in Shepherd Center’s SHARE Military Initiative, a comprehensive rehabilitation program for service members with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.
It also helps that whenever Randy would prefer to lay low, his buddy Cole convinces him otherwise, with some slobbery licks to the face. Cole is Randy’s service dog, a Corgi-Collie mix that Randy describes as a corgi with long legs and a tail.
Five years ago, Cole was a gift from Randy’s former fiancée, Molly, a longtime trainer of service dogs. In 2015, the couple was in a car wreck together, and Molly passed away. By the time Randy entered SHARE in 2016 – on the recommendation of a fellow platoon member who graduated from the program – he couldn’t tell which post-traumatic stress was worse.
“You think you can’t go through anything worse than you did in the military,” Randy says, “and then sometimes you do. It was survivor’s guilt on both ends.”
At Shepherd Center, Randy received treatment for his brain injury, learned to recognize and handle his symptoms and went on outings that taught him to formulate plans to better handle high-stress, public situations.
“I’m not perfect,” Randy says. “This isn’t going to magically heal you of everything. But I understand what I’m dealing with now. I have my confidence back. It’s all about learning how to deal with the things going on in your life, accept them and manage them.”
To make a gift in support of the SHARE Military Initiative, contact Jon Roxland at 404-350-7314 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit shepherd.org/share.
Written by Phillip Jordan
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.