Near death experience prompts Iraq war veteran to adopt a dog

Near death experience prompts Iraq war veteran to adopt a dog

For more than 20 years Matthew served in the Air Force. But a near death experience that haunts him to this day inspired him to adopt a dog – one who has become his kindred spirit.

The drums of war

In 2000 Matthew enlisted in the Air Force and went to basic training early the following year. The Iraq war would soon follow.

In 2003 the United States invaded Iraq. We vowed to destroy their weapons of mass destruction and topple Suddam Hussein.

Matthew remembers his front row seat to history.

“By the time I had reached my first duty station, Hurlburt Field, the war in Iraq had begun,” he says.

“…my life changed forever”

Years later Matthew would serve in that very same war zone. But a near death encounter left him scarred for the rest of his days.

“It was in 2010 on what felt like my one-millionth rotation, but just my second to Iraq, that a rocket hit close by,” he shares. “And my life changed forever.”

The airman was traumatized when a rocket landed near where he was standing. It is a miracle that he is alive.Near death experience prompts Iraq war veteran to adopt a dog

“The rocket simply hit the ground, but didn’t explode,” he explains.

“It just hit the ground with a thud and hundreds of little pieces of concrete and metal went flying.”

Matthew was frozen with fear – and the realization that he remained intact and alive.

“I simply stood there and watched, I had never seen anything like it before,” he says.

“I watched and somehow wasn’t hit by a thing.”

The event and its aftermath were surreal.

To this day the details of that near death experience play on an endless loop in Matthew’s mind. They set the stage for the lasting trauma he deals with every day of his life.

Still, the Air Force veteran knows he was among the lucky ones. He is alive.

“I went to bed that night thinking about everything and how lucky I was. I think about those events every night now, seeing the rocket, seeing it hit and me just standing there like an ass,” he shares. “Funny thing is, I got a medal for it, too.”

Almost empty nesters

Finally, after more than 20 years of service, Matthew retired from the military in April 2021. He and his wife both work in ecology. Together they share three children: Bailey and Ashlyn, 23 and 21, respectively, and 11 year-old Griffin.

Only the youngest remains at home. But the family gets together often to enjoy outdoor and sporting activities.

“While the older two have moved out,” Matthew says, “we still love spending time together outside camping or at Seattle Mariner games.”

“…I was struggling”

To a casual observer Matthew likely seems fine. But all is not well. Since his near death experience at war he lives with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).Near death experience prompts Iraq war veteran to adopt a dog

One major impact for Matthew is a tendency to isolate himself. He keeps a small social circle of those he trusts most – and no more.

“I have PTSD,” he shares.

“Outside of my family and close friends I don’t socialize much, definitely nowhere near as much as I used to before 2010.”

Many veterans have difficulty transitioning from service to civilian life.

Those challenges are often magnified for those who experienced some form of trauma.

“After retirement I was struggling, and I knew it was time to get help.”

While Matthew left the military, the life-altering events of that fateful day remain.

Four-legged wingman

The retired airman looked into various programs that help veterans with PTSD. He found out about our companion pet adoption program and felt a connection to our mission.

“I had been doing research for a year or so and everything happens for a reason,” he says. “I liked the Pets for Patriots program and I connected with the stories.”

Matthew refers to our Wet Nose Blog, where we feature adoption stories of veterans in our program. The blog is published weekly, with some exceptions during major holidays.

The Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County is near Matthew’s home. It offers veterans in our program a reduced adoption fee of $16 when they adopt eligible dogs and cats. To date the organization has made almost 100 adoptions through our partnership.

It was March 2024 and Myers was a young, yet large dog in the shelter’s care. At the time he was barely one year old. No one knew what kinds of difficulties he may have endured.

But Matthew was smitten; he saw promise in this unwanted dog. So on the very day the retired airman was approved into our program he gave Myers his wings – and renamed him Bodhi.


As of this writing it is but a few months that Matthew and Bodhi are together. Yet it is as though man and dog have known one another forever.

“While it is still early, Bodhi and I are kindred spirits – hence his name,” Matthew shares. “The bodhisattva are spiritual guides that forgo enlightenment and stay on earth to help guide others towards enlightenment.”Near death experience prompts Iraq war veteran to adopt a dog

Bodhi – or anyone, for that matter – cannot undo Matthew’s near death experience from his service.

Still, the young dog is doing his part to help his veteran heal. Bodhi’s demands for exercise and activity keep Matthew busy, too busy to dwell on dark memories.

“Bodhi has helped not only emotionally, but physically as well,” he explains.

“Thanks to his high energy – Bodhi is a Kelpie – he keeps me moving and walking [or] running most of the day.”

The retired airman has already told other separating veterans about our program and how easy it is to work with us. We accept applications 24/7 and resolve most of them within two business days.

Matthew and Bodhi are testament to our work unleashing hope™ for veterans and shelter animals. Whether walking, running, or training, the pair get closer with each passing day.

“We have been attending advanced puppy training classes,” Matthew says, “and the bond we have forged is unbreakable.”

1 Comment

  1. John A. Smaldone

    Great story,

    God Bless you Mathew and thank you so much for your service. I am Air Force also Brother, wounded in Vietnam. Bodhi sounds like a life savor for you.

    Pets for Patriots has been there for us, we now have Copper left, adopted him through Pets For Patriots with the help of Beth Zimmerman, Beth is still there helping us, they are the greatest!

    I will pray for you and your family along with Bodhi!

    Take care my friend, keep the sprite going high,



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