Javonda had a fulfilling career as an Army medic and committed herself to helping fellow soldiers. So when a life-threatening illness and a family tragedy befell her it was 12-pound pup who helped her reclaim her joy.
A heart for helping
In 1993 Javonda enlisted in the Army through the Delayed Entry Program with the exciting opportunity to train as a combat medic.
These highly trained professionals are quick thinkers with big hearts who dispense emergency medical treatment to soldiers injured on the field. In addition they ensure their unit’s medical readiness, maintain hospital supplies, administer primary care, and instruct fellow soldiers in combat lifesaving techniques.
Javonda’s first assignment was with the 557 Medical Company, a ground ambulance company, in Wiesbaden, Germany. Her demanding yet exciting career enabled her to travel extensively throughout Europe and Africa.
“I did not have any deployments with my unit,” she shares, “but there were many unit assignments in support of activities all over Europe such as Nijmegen, a 100 road march through Benelux.”
Benelux is a political-economic union comprised of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
And while the young medic’s specialty was health and wellness, Javonda is quick to point out that her patients provided her with valuable life lessons.
Feeling the heat
Life as an Army medic is never dull. Still, one experience remains etched in Javonda’s memory and has shaped her attitude in life.
During one overseas mission Javonda was attached to the 212th MASH, a mobile field support hospital. Her team – among other responsibilities – administered medications and vaccinations to people in nearby villages. She recalls a woman who walked for four days from her village to get her child vaccinated.
“People would come from all over with their children to get the vaccinations we had,” she shares. “They didn’t even know what we giving, but they knew Americans had medications.”
The crew of medics doggedly worked to help people despite a wet bulb temperature of 120 degrees – in the shade. During a break, she and her fellow soldiers unbloused their boots and struggled to stay hydrated. That was when she noticed something about the woman who had traveled so far.
“I looked up and saw the woman and child, and they just sat by the table like it was an ordinary day!” she marveled. “They drank a cup or two of water, and when we asked if they were hot like everyone else, she said, ‘Thinking about the heat would not make [us] any more or less hot.’ After that not one person complained the rest of the mission.”
Sense of duty
Following her assignment to Germany Javonda was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. Upon arrival her unit was immediately deployed to Camp Doha, Kuwait. While her time in Botswana conditioned her for the brutal heat, she feels empathy for soldiers who are not given time to adjust.
“As I watch current events now my heart goes out to the young soldiers who are being deployed to the region. It’s extremely dangerous in the desert if a soldier has not had any training, or opportunity to work with his equipment,” she explains.
Javonda felt called to reenlist when her first tour of duty was up. Not one to rest on her laurels, she set her sights higher for her second enlistment and applied for additional training. Her skills clearly impressed the right people and she was awarded a competitive position in orthopedics.
“I reenlisted for additional training and I received a very competitive MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) in orthopedics 91B10P1. My new assignment was back in Germany, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center,” she shares. “I was placed in charge of the cast room and quickly advanced to cross train in podiatry.”
The Army medic embraced her career and through it gained many valuable life lessons.
“The military teaches you critical skills you are not most likely to get on the outside anywhere else.”
Gifted medic becomes a reluctant patient
In 2018, Javonda was hospitalized due to a serious heart condition that nearly took her life. Following open heart surgery the hospital released her to the care of her family in High Point, North Carolina to help her convalesce.
“I had to be released to my family,” she explains, “because my condition demanded constant support and attention.”
This was not the only battle the Army medic’s family would endure. While Javonda was in the hospital her older sister died suddenly; the family was grief stricken.
Despite her own health issues and the loss of her sister, Javonda soldiered on and rose to a new challenge. Upon settling in High Point she raised her sister’s granddaughters, Zoe and Amari, as her own. At the same time she was raising her son, Jaelen, whom she refers to as her “rock.”
When fortitude runs in the family
Life continued to throw roadblocks in the Army medic’s path.
During Javonda’s convalescence she developed a tumor called plantar neurofibromatosis in her right foot. This painful condition can affect every aspect of a person’s life. It compromises an individual’s mobility, impacting one’s sense of independence and confidence.
Chronic physical pain often leads to mental anguish and depression. But a bright spot for Javonda was seeing her son never give up on his mother – or his future.
Jaelen clearly inherited some of his mother’s grit and determination. He entered a special academy which allowed him to earn his associates degree along with his high school diploma.
“He is pursuing a major in artificial intelligence,” Javonda says. “I’m super proud.”
Still, Javonda’s ongoing health conditions took their toll. She struggled in physical therapy and found that managing her mobility issues was harder than she imagined. This turn of events was frustrating for the strong veteran who spent her Army career helping others.
Javonda shared her fears and anxieties one fateful day with her physical therapist, who suggested she get a dog.
Companion animals – such as cats and dogs – are nature’s four-legged therapists. In fact, having a pet not only helps people become more physically active, but combats fatigue, depression, and isolation, among many other emotional ills.
Heart to heart
As a disabled veteran Javonda’s income was very limited and she wondered if there were any organizations that helped veterans adopt pets.
Since 2015 the shelter has partnered with us to place program-eligible dogs and cats into loving military homes.
A cute little Chihuahua named Ben was featured on the shelter’s webpage and caught Javonda’s eye.
So in July 2019 Javonda, along with her son and nephew, went to the shelter to meet the then four-and-a-half year-old pup. However, upon arrival she saw another small dog and felt torn between the two.
“I actually was about to choose another Chihuahua, but my son and nephew had Ben in their arms. Ben didn’t make a sound. When I walked over to him, gave him my scent, he gently put his head down, and he just latched onto my family,” she recalls. “We then found out his previous owner also had a heart condition, and that sealed the deal.”
Army medic’s pint-sized guardian angel
Javonda affectionately refers to Ben as her family’s guardian angel. Anyone who has spent time with a Chihuahua will understand when she says, “He protects us to his fullest.”
Ben loves all the children in the family and his playfulness delights everyone. Laughter has been very good medicine for Javonda and her entire household.
“Every member of this family has a friend in my dog. He watches over me when I’m sick and well and never leaves my side. He senses when I’m unwell, and I’m so comforted by his devotion to me. Ben’s loyalty and devotion is so reassuring to me and my family,” she shares.
Javonda recommends Pets for Patriots for other veterans who are struggling to cope in civilian life or who are simply in need of companionship.
“After years of military service, the bond you develop with your pet is so therapeutic both for you and your pet,” she says. “Since he’s been home with us, I’ve found a true companion.”
Ben is very protective despite his tiny size. But he barks only when visitors approach the door or when adults approach Javonda’s grandchild.
Otherwise the Army veteran’s pint-sized therapist can be found enjoying the simple everyday pleasures of his new life. Going for car rides. Sleeping on Javonda’s bed at night. Even watching TV.
“He likes a nice, quiet home. He naps in the afternoon and enjoys police dramas,” she says. “We’ve noticed quickly how he lays in front of the TV for Blue Bloods, Chicago P.D, Law & Order, and Nash Bridges.”
The Army medic who dedicated her life to healing others is enjoying her next act with Ben, who has devoted his life to protecting hers.