Benjamin is a Marine Corps veteran who spends his days traveling the country with his wife and rescue hound. It is a far cry from the stealth and danger he faced during his many years of service.
“Swift, silent, and deadly”
Benjamin sums up his military career with all of the intrigue of a good spy novel.
“It is one with adventure and danger,” he says, “along with a mixture of fun and excitement.”
In 1996 Benjamin separated from the Marine Corps after a dozen years in force reconnaissance. He would serve in various roles, each of which was fraught with its own brand of peril.
“During that time I received many titles besides being a U.S. Marine,” he explains. “I am an Army Ranger, Special Forces Green Beret, Army Pathfinder, Navy combat diver and Airborne, among a few other titles.”
Benjamin’s adaptability led him to various assignments in conflict zones across the globe. He served in Central America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Somalia, and the Mexican border with the United States.
Typically, Benjamin and his team were gathering intelligence and conducting clandestine raids behind enemy lines.
“Swift, silent, and deadly was our brand,” he says, “but all things come to an end.”
To share is to heal
Benjamin’s life and those with whom he served relied on secrecy; it was an occupational necessity.
However, upon separating from service Benjamin found that it was detrimental to his mental health to hold his feelings inside. This is but one of many common struggles veterans face when they transition from military to civilian life.
Benjamin confides that he had trouble opening up about his military service.
“In my line of work there has been so many traumatic, humorous, dramatic, and horrific experiences. It’s what you do with those experiences and memories that make you what you are in the future,” he shares. “Many choose to not talk, not share, and be silent. I was one of those after my time in the service was up. It wasn’t until the past six to eight years that I began sharing and talking.”
With time comes wisdom, and with wisdom the realization that sharing promotes healing.
The Marine Corps veteran dispels a common misperception among the public that veterans should never discuss what they endured in service.
“Many people think that a true veteran doesn’t talk about his [or] her experiences,” he says. “I say they have watched too many movies. I feel every veteran wants to share and now, later in life, I strongly believe it is healthier.”
Still, Benjamin believes that timing and context are important to help veterans open up, even if they are sharing something humorous.
Neither seen nor heard
Many years later Benjamin recalls one of the most harrowing experiences of his military career when a life or death situation momentarily caught his team by surprise.
“I remember vividly the first time my team and I came under fire,” he shares. “Reality set it in. The ‘oh, crap’ factor set in hard. I had a team of six, and several team members froze. Years of training for this moment raced through my head and what seemed like minutes were only seconds in real time.”
As team leader Benjamin knew that his life and the lives of his men depended upon him. In that moment, getting everyone out alive was all that mattered. So he ordered his team to return fire, which allowed them to extract themselves safely.
Benjamin reflects on the errors that almost cost his team their lives.
“We were recon Marines – we are never seen and never heard – but we were in a situation that we were seen,” he admits. “We screwed up, but had to get back on track to complete the mission. The experience is one that most will never know unless you are in the military and in a combat situation.”
Some years later, after separating from the military and serving in law enforcement, Benjamin drew from his experiences to recruit an informant. While attached to his state’s gang task force he interviewed a gang member who doubted that Benjamin could relate to his world.
“I laughed slightly and said, ‘Son, let me tell you a story,'” he recalls. “This experience came to mind and [I] shared with him what combat is like. This broke the ice and he ended up being my first gang Informant with the Mexican Mafia, ‘La Eme.'”
The right fit
Moving from military to civilian life is difficult for many veterans. This is especially true for individuals who served in wars or other conflict zones.
These challenges can impact nearly every aspect of a veteran’s life, including employment, housing, and relationships. Many grapple with a range of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Civilian life is a change and sometimes a challenge to men in my line of work,” Benjamin explains. “Finding the right fit, the right place – or places – and the right partner is usually an ongoing challenge.”
In time a rescue hound would meet that mark, finding his rightful place with Benjamin and his wife.
For the love of dogs
While Benjamin separated from the Marines after 12 years of service he was not done serving his country. He went into the Department of Homeland Security and ultimately retired for good after a combined 22 years of federal service.
Life is now decidedly less stressful.
“I am married to my wife, Chastity, for nearly 21 years now and we love dogs and animals in general. Dogs fill in the voids in life, keeping relationships strong and good when emotions are out of sync.”
For the past five years the couple have been traveling the country as full-time RVers. Those adventures now include a rescue hound who was in an eastern North Carolina shelter looking for a home.
“Samuel Leroy chose me”
It was late May 2022 when Benjamin visited Outer Banks SPCA. The shelter offers veterans we serve half-off dog adoption fees and 25 percent off cat adoptions.
“Actually my wife saw the advertisement on the SPCA website. She did the research and we signed up,” Benjamin recalls. “It was a great resource and everything was simple and easy. In fact, when we adopted Samuel Leroy they gave him to us for free and thanked me for my service several times.”
Benjamin confides that pet adoption was not on his agenda, despite his love of dogs.
“I was not looking for a pet at the time, my wife was, but I went along anyway,” he says.
“Samuel Leroy chose me – why, I am not sure.”
Samuel Leroy was a then four-and-a-half year-old hound mix waiting for his hero. Little is known about his life before entering Outer Banks SPCA, but that mattered little to Benjamin and his wife.
In late June 2022 the Marine Corps veteran finalized Samuel Leroy’s adoption.
The shelter was so excited to have this first adoption through our partnership that they waived the big dog’s adoption fee altogether.
“I gave them my letter that I received from Pets for Patriots. I was amazed that they concluded the adoption with ‘no fee.’ That was awesome, and I surely did not expect to adopt the dog for free,” Benjamin recalls. “This has been a fantastic opportunity.”
It would not be long til the amiable rescue hound joined his new family on their cross-country adventures.
Life on the road
Sometimes opportunities are placed in our path that we do not fully appreciate in the moment. Benjamin has always believed that the right things happen at the right time; his union with a certain rescue hound is no exception.
“Samuel Leroy has been a good addition to this family and I believe he has found a new life in traveling with us. He has been to 15 states since we picked him up in June of 2022 and he will be in another four states before he reaches a full year with us.”
The big dog does not miss a chance to express gratitude for his newfound life. He has taken a special shine to Benjamin and developed a nightly routine that is more fitting of a lap dog than a 66-pound hound.
“Samuel Leroy is a character, to say the least,” Benjamin says. “Probably the biggest thing, which was not expected, is he climbs on me in the evening, sitting in my recliner and goes to sleep on my chest.”
Companion pets are natural boosters of our mental health. They accept and love us unconditionally. And because they live in the present they are a powerful reminder to neither dwell on the past nor fret too much about the future.
The simple acts of caring for a pet – providing sustenance, exercise, play, and affection – give veterans a renewed sense of purpose in their lives.
“Since Samuel Leroy has come into my life I have been rejuvenated and more active in day-to-day activities,” Benjamin shares. “We go on walks, hikes, and he has me in the water swimming again. He has recharged my motivation to be me again.”
Most animals in shelters have experienced some type of hardship, such as neglect, abandonment, or outright abuse. Benjamin believes they all have stories to tell, much like the veterans who adopt them.
And despite whatever hardships these animals have endured they still have an amazing capacity to love.
“I love dogs dearly – they do not judge you like humans. Life has many turns, many emotional challenges, and tough decisions. Believe it or not, your pet, if the right one, is non-judgmental and loves you unconditionally,” Benjamin shares.
“As I get older and life starts changing I reflect more, as we all do I’m sure. Memories resurface that have long been gone.”
Companion pet do not require us to change, but by their mere presence they inspire positive transformation.
Samuel Leroy is a rescue hound who is already proving that simply being there for Benjamin is sometimes all that is required.
“Having a pet is a good distraction, but not all memories are bad, don’t get me wrong. A pet keeps you smiling and content, energized and active,” he says. “Adopting seemed the right path, for a dog’s life is meant for more besides being locked in a cage.”