Bob never strayed from his mission to save lives. But the Army medic turned to his own canine band of brothers after a failed marriage and 30 years of caring for others. It was time to focus on his own well-being.
“…I knew that’s what I wanted to do”
Bob has had a fascination with helicopters for as long as he can remember. Growing up on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, one of his earliest childhood memories involves a local company whose founder invented the hamburger patty press used by several popular fast-food restaurants.
To the boy’s amusement, their corporate headquarters had a helipad.
“My dad used to take me there to watch this Bell 207 Jet Ranger land and take off, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Bob recalls.
However, training to become a pilot was not an option due to an issue in his left eye.
Bob was determined to get on a helicopter and moved to his grandparents’ hometown of Battle Creek, Michigan after high school. He attended college there and became an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).
The next step in Bob’s plan was to continue taking college courses and become a paramedic. He knew about a helicopter program in nearby Kalamazoo that flew with nurse physicians. He set the lofty goal of becoming the first paramedic to fly with that crew.
However, an unforeseen conversation with a friend grounded those dreams temporarily.
The best laid plans
Bob listened intently when his friend suggested they join the Army. The pair met with a recruiter to get more information. Bob was sold as soon as he learned he would be able to attend flight medic school.
“I joined the military on a whim,” he says. “I looked at my friend and said, ‘Let’s do this,’ and we enlisted.”
Bob selected the combat medic military occupational specialty (MOS), hoping it would help him achieve his life-long goal. Once trained, he would be responsible for providing first aid and front line trauma care on the battlefield. He would assist Army doctors in medical treatment facilities in non-combat situations.
In 1987, Bob and his friend arrived at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Detroit, Michigan. They were eager to ship out together to basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
“All the best laid plans go to waste, though. I enlisted with my friend, but once we were at MEPS they immediately separated us,” Bob laughs. “I never saw him again throughout my military career.”
Student becomes the teacher
Bob completed advanced individual training (AIT) in Texas and then reported directly to flight medic school in Alabama.
After months of training the medic was assigned to the 36th Medical Battalion at Fort Devens in Massachusetts. At the time, the Army 10th Special Forces Group was headquartered on the same installation. The primary mission of that elite group of soldiers is to train partner forces in allied countries.
The opportunity to learn from such a skilled unit proved to be a valuable experience for the young soldier.
“Those guys were rock stars,” Bob recalls. “They took some of the medics under their wings and we got to do a lot of really cool stuff with them.”
The veteran credits those Green Berets with helping him develop a mindset that has guided him in life since.
“In a way, my entire adult life was formed by that,” he shares, “by making sure that you step up and do your job.”
The highlight of Bob’s Army career was spending two summers at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was hand-selected by his battalion commander to teach courses in combat first aid.
“It was amazing to be a 21, 22 year-old enlisted person and be able to teach at West Point,” he recalls with pride.
One door closes and another door opens
Bob’s second summer as an instructor came to an abrupt end in 1990 when Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait.
The Rangers and Green Berets attending his course left West Point immediately to prepare for deployment to the Middle East. Bob’s unit returned to Fort Devens a couple of days later, unsure of what the future held for them.
The combat medic desperately wanted to contribute to what would eventually be known as the Gulf War. He recounts going to the battalion’s charge of quarters office to use the defense phone and plead his case.
“There was a number we could call. I would say, ‘Send me. I’m a flight medic. Send me.’ I tried several times. They always said, ‘We’ll let you know,’ but it never happened,” Bob says.
Bob left active duty after three years of service and transitioned to the National Guard. Back in Michigan he attended paramedic school and checked a major item off his bucket list.
“I pressed forward, became a paramedic, and realized my dream,” he says proudly. “I became the first flight paramedic on the helicopter in Kalamazoo.”
A lifetime of service to others
Bob’s commitment to helping others did not end when he separated from the National Guard two years later. He has continually expanded his education to better serve the public and worked in a variety of first responder roles.
To this day the veteran remains close to his military roots.
Bob has been advising leaders at the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) on field-level medical care for 17 years. He is currently working to publish universal clinical practice guidelines for all service members.
“The guidelines will cover everything from what to do if you have an infected ingrown toenail to how to care for a military working dog or multipurpose canine that is injured in a firefight,” he says.
The helicopter flight nurse and former combat medic even spent time in the Middle East as a military contractor.
For a year, Bob worked in a dangerous province in Saudi Arabia helping the local government establish helicopter Emergency Medical Services (EMS) operations. He was not liked by the locals despite being there to provide valuable expertise.
“My presence was not well received.”
“…I know I made a difference”
The breadth and depth of Bob’s service to others is truly remarkable.
“I was a flight paramedic for over twenty years. I worked as a firefighter where I fell through floors and was trapped in a basement fire. I was on one of only two civilian aircraft – helicopters – flying the night of 9/11,” the veteran says. “I guess I’ve done it all – medical, law enforcement, fire.”
Bob occasionally looks back on his initial disappointment of having to remain stateside during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The medic acknowledges that the intensity of his post-service experiences has helped him reconcile that letdown.
“I filled my life up with so much danger after the fact,” he shares. “I didn’t see combat, but I know I made a difference.”
Lifesaver needs a lifeline
Bob’s professional life was flourishing, but his personal life was crumbling.
In 2005 he moved to California and married, but the relationship did not last. Several years and many globe-trotting miles later he was standing at a crossroads.
Isolated, lonely, and aimless, Bob knew he needed a change.
The medical professional who had spent his entire career taking care of others now had to do something for himself. He needed his own band of brothers, much like he had in the military.
“I’m living in California. I have no family here. I’m kind of adrift,” he confides. “I need to be around family, people who love me and care about me, people who I care about.”
The veteran knew exactly where to find the solace and support he desperately needed. His grandparents retired to Florida’s east coast 30 years earlier and Bob had visited them often.
“It’s always felt like home,” he says fondly. “So I packed my stuff, got on a plane, and flew to South Florida.”
No place like home
Bob was happy to be surrounded by family again. Many years of neglecting his own health and wellness had taken their toll, though. He credits his band of brothers – fellow soldiers he served with in the Army who pledged to always look out for each other – for standing by his side and pushing him to take better care of himself.
Today, Bob shares a home with his girlfriend, Caroline, and her three children. True to his inherent desire to serve, he works as an emergency room charge nurse in the largest hospital in Palm Beach County. His days are busy, but much more balanced.
“I live a very peaceful life. It’s very rewarding to live with people who appreciate me for who I am,” he says.
The humans in his household are not the only ones who are thankful to have Bob in their lives.
Old dogs and new tricks
An elderly aunt living nearby could no longer take care of her miniature Dachshund, Sparky, so Bob took him in. He admits the little dog has been a pleasant addition to the family even though he is partial to large dogs.
“He zooms around the house and growls at everybody,” Bob laughs. “He’s cantankerous, but he’s a great dog.”
Bob even taught the now eight year-old dog a new trick.
“I took him to visit my grandmother one day, and she was very concerned about him. She said, ‘Bobby, I think Sparky has allergies.’ I had to explain to her that I trained him to sneeze on command,” he says wryly. “Yes, he sneezes for food.”
Having Sparky around shed a light on the therapeutic benefits a companion pet can provide.
“A pet is a lot like your military buddy. They’re there for you, through good times and bad,” Bob says. “Pets are an extension to that support system.”
The veteran was resolute when the time came to add another pup to the pack.
“My family has a thing for Dachshunds,” he says, “but I really love German Shepherds.”
Bob remembers fondly his past interactions with working dogs.
“I worked for a search and rescue team back in Michigan,” he recalls, “and we worked with all the local police departments. I had five German Shepherds that I trained off and on.”
In 2019, Bob and Caroline visited Big Dog Ranch Rescue in search of a German Shepherd.
The ranch has partnered with Pets for Patriots since 2012 and provides veterans in our program deeply discounted adoption fees. Large and small dogs alike call the rescue’s unique 33-acre, cage-free campus their temporary home.
The couple did not find a new family member on their initial trip, but the visit was not futile.
Special arrangement for a special dog
The ranch introduced Bob to Pets for Patriots and the benefits of adopting through our partnership with them.
Impressed with the veteran’s expertise as a medic and nurse, a staff member persuaded Bob to become a volunteer. It was during his time volunteering with the rescue that he met his next buddy.
Zeus is a five year-old German Shepherd with numerous complicated health issues. His medications and special diet are expensive to maintain and challenging to administer. These factors made his adoption nearly impossible.
But hope was not lost for Zeus. Bob stepped up and offered to do what he had been doing his entire adult life: save a life.
“I’ve always believed very firmly that I have a duty,” he says, “that stepping into the breach and standing forward is what you do.”
In August 2019, Bob decided to foster Zeus permanently. This arrangement helps to reduce an animal’s stress by providing a stable and compassionate home life. The ranch covers the cost of medications and veterinary care in order to ease the financial burden of caring for a special needs dog.
Just one month later Bob could not resist making Zeus an official member of the family. So he adopted him. Zeus is notably different from the intense, high-energy Shepherds Bob worked with in the past.
“He’s the most docile male German Shepherd I’ve ever had,” the veteran says. “It’s great being with him.”
At the time, Bob could not have imagined the energy that was about to injected into his household.
From Puerto Rico, with love
“Someone from the ranch called a week after we brought Zeus home. They asked if we wanted to come look at a couple of Dachshunds they just took in,” he recalls. “I didn’t really want another Dachshund. I already have Sparky.”
Both pups were picked up as strays while roaming the streets of Puerto Rico. Shelters on the island are often overcrowded during hurricane season. Adoptable cats and dogs are sent to shelters on the mainland to make room for incoming displaced animals.
“I wasn’t sure if we wanted three dogs,” he says, “but Caroline begged to go see them.”
Bob relented and the couple paid another visit to the Big Dog Ranch Rescue in September 2019. The staff brought out Mateo first; Caroline fell in love with him immediately.
“He is a very handsome little Dachshund,” Bob concedes. “Of course, he ended up coming home with us.”
And so Bob’s canine band of brothers was complete.
We are go for launch
The two year-old pup was swiftly renamed Rocket, a name which more aptly captured his high-spirited nature.
“If you could see him in action, you would understand why we named him Rocket. He’s always zooming around the house. He barks at three o’clock in the morning and doesn’t like the 21 year-old, so he barks at him every time he comes out of his room,” he explains. “He’s a little terror, but he’s so cute and adorable.”
The pint-sized ball of energy has not yet mastered big brother Sparky’s clever trick of sneezing on command. In fact, he still needs to work on the basics occasionally.
“Rocket is kind of clueless. Sometimes he has to remind himself to breathe. In, out, in, out,” Bob jokes.
But to the veteran’s delight, his three battle buddies get along exceptionally well.
“You would think the big giant German Shepherd would be the pack leader, but he’s not,” Bob says. “Zeus mostly just minds his own business.”
However, Zeus is not always a perfect angel. He had a splenectomy over the winter that seems to have invigorated his spirit. And from time to time, a little peer pressure brings out his frisky side.
“He doesn’t chase the cats until the Dachshunds start barking at them. Then it’s like he says, ‘Oh, I’ll go do that, too,’” Bob says.
Band of brothers
Bob’s life is filled to the brim with activity, thanks in large part to his ever-expanding pack.
“It’s a constant hyperkinetic place for me,” he says.
The Army veteran would not want it any other way.
Bob’s shifts at the hospital and his work with USSOCOM keep him busy, but he always makes time to shower his pets with affection. He is so devoted to his four-legged band of brothers that Caroline jokes about wanting to be reincarnated as his dog someday.
“What can I say? They’re always there for me,” he says. “Sometimes they do things you’re not going to be happy with – like chewing on the couch. But you still love them, and they still love you.”
Bob is grateful for the financial benefits he received through Pets For Patriots that make pet adoption more affordable. But for the once lonely veteran, the rewards go far beyond monetary perks.
Bob is most thankful that we helped him build his own canine band of brothers. And since he is always thinking of others, Bob has a message for veterans who are considering companion pet adoption.
“Veterans understand the life of service and the brotherhood and sisterhood. They believe in the greater good and completing the mission together,” Bob says. “Your pet is a lot like those brothers and sisters in arms. They will be there for you. They’re like having your own home-built support system.”