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Spotlight on Veteran Dennis Blankenship

Hollie is a perfect fit for professional angler, Dennis Blankenship.

Hollie’s favorite place to be in the world.

Dennis and Hollie meeting during the Trauma Resilience Program. You can see the love here in this photo.

This Able Veteran’s pairing ceremony with Dennis and Hollie.

Lifelong partners.

Dennis Blankenship completed the Trauma Resiliency Program at This Able Veteran in the fall of 2020. At the end of the program, he was paired with his service dog, Hollie, and he says it has been an amazing adventure ever since. He and Hollie live in Irons, Michigan where Blankenship is a professional angler. Both he and Hollie share a love of fishing.

Blankenship served in the military for nine years. He served in the military police for his first two deployments and as a forward observer for field artillery in his third deployment.

“I enlisted September 1, 1987, and I was 17 years old. I returned to civilian life on September 14, 1996. My first deployment was in Central America to Panama.  My second deployment I returned to Central America in Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The year after that, I went to Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Following his 3rd deployment, he attended the Army Airborne School, Ranger Orientation Program and the Pre-Ranger course. So, I guess you could say I was busy,” said Blankenship.

Blankenship shares that it was trying for him for years after his service.

“I really avoided communicating with people and I isolated a lot. When I heard about This Able Veteran, I wasn’t sure if I should apply. I mean, it was out of my comfort zone to travel from Michigan to Carbondale, Illinois for three weeks to meet and live with people I didn’t know. I was extremely anxious and nervous,” he said.

The first positive turning point was when This Able Veteran assigned him a mentor.

“My mentor was Steve Medders who is a Vietnam veteran, and he would talk to me on the phone, and he painted a picture for me of what it would be like to attend. He shared his experience of going through the program and he settled me down a lot. I remember Steve was available 24/7 and he always let me call him anytime. He was extremely helpful and always told me that TAV was a safe, non-judgmental environment.  Due to the pandemic, we did pre-course sessions over Zoom and that allowed me to put a face to a name, rather than going into a new environment knowing no one,” said Blankenship.

Blankenship encourages other veterans suffering from PTSD to apply to This Able Veteran’s Trauma Resiliency Program.

“It is a life-changing program. The tools, friendships, camaraderie and esprit decor that you gain and the lessons you learn made it a win-win situation for me and for my family.

He shared that there were so many helpful tools taught in the classroom that he was oblivious to prior to attending.

“Before TRP, I had never considered the concept of living in the moment. I remained focused on the past and the future. Living in the moment and being impeccable with my word, works wonderous for me. Another aspect of the program that I hated at first was the morning walk. I didn’t enjoy it, but I kept at it and by the end of the class, that was one of the most valuable tools that I learned there,” said Blankenship.

He said that before TAV, he hadn’t been to a grocery store in ten years. Now, with Hollie at his side, he says he enjoys going shopping. He credits TAV for expanding his life and family relationships.

Blankenship says Hollie has enriched his life, especially because she shares his passion for fishing and that she is totally committed to the mission.

“When I participate in fishing tournaments, Hollie is my partner. She is on the boat and stays with me all day. She is a lover. And she loves the water. I’ll often toss a pheasant decoy off the dock so she can run and dive into the water. She lives for that,” said Blankenship.

If you would like to learn more about This Able Veteran and its mission, please visit thisableveteran.org. To learn how you can support This Able Veteran, visit https://thisableveteran.org/how-you-can-help/donate-now/

#veterans #nonprofit #veteranlove #servicedogs #donate #thisableveteran #ptsd






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This Able Veteran’s Service Dog Trainer Elise and Her Cross-Country Road-Trip Adventure

Service dog trainer, Elise Ratajczyk and actor, Jason Spisak, walking to lunch in Carbondale during the Salukicon event.

Pippin resting on the trail in Arizona.

Elise, Jason and Malea

On the hiking trail with Pippin.

Elise and Pippin enjoyed their 5,000 mile trip often stopping at small attractions and oddities along the way as they traveled on Route 66.

Pippin enjoyed camping along the way to California and loves the great outdoors!

One of the quirky places they came to was the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Oklahoma, a giant waterfront structure build in the 1970s. Elise says Pippin wasn’t sure what he and his buddy were posing in front of, but they are always game for anything.

Pippin proudly poses in front of Cadillac Ranch and the Second Amendment Cowboy in Texas.

Elise Ratajczk has been a service dog trainer for This Able Veteran since 2021. During this time, Elise has met several famous people while out training, some of which include politicians and celebrities. This past spring while attending SalukiCon at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Elise met Jason Spisak, an actor, producer, computer programmer in animation and video games, and producer and founding member of Blackchalk Productions.

Many fans know Spisak through his successful voice-over career, which spans more than 27 years. Jason has created the voices of Silco in Arcane, The Joker in Batman Hush, Lux Bonteri and Cristo on “Star Wars: Clone Wars,” the Lego Joker in two Warner Brothers animated movies, Kid Flash/Wally West on “Young Justice,” Scorpion in Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man for PS4, the voice of the disembodied Silias for “Vampire Diaries” on CW, Justin Hammer in Disney XD “Avengers Assemble,” Silico on “Power Puff Girls,” Paralon in “Transformers,” and loads more.

Jason says that while he was at SalukiCon in Carbondale last spring, he met Elise and
Edmond (the black poodle she was training) cosplaying characters from one of the shows Jason is in. He says that caught his attention.

“Whenever I travel, I hate sitting in my hotel room during my time off. I like to find fans who can recommend good local restaurants and then I invite them to join me for lunch,” said Spisak.

Elise said she is always up for an adventure, so when Spisak asked where to go for lunch, she and her friend Malea invited him to go to nearby Blend Tea and Crepe Lounge.

“I watched Elise work with Edmond and was in awe of how she trained him despite the crowd of people surrounding us. She really inspired me and as we talked over lunch, I realized she and Malea are the type of folks I like to have in my life,” said Spisak.

As they ate and talked, Elise shared her passion for This Able Veteran with Jason and the work she does training service dogs for veterans with PTSD.

“It became clear to me early on that This Able Veteran service dog trainers have a true gift. They don’t view dogs as animals. They view and treat the service dogs as their peers, which was lovely to watch. Elise told me that people often need a friend in their lives, sometimes physically and emotionally. That struck a chord in me,” said Spisak.

Malea and Elise also shared their upcoming summer road trip plans with Spisak, which included a trip to California to work at Paramount Studios. Spisak realized their tripwould take them right by Flagstaff, Arizona, which is his home.

“I thought it would be great to give them a rest from the road and show them Flagstaff. Plus, we could help stretch the service dog’s legs by taking him on a hike,” he said.

The trainers rotate the service dogs in their care, to ensure that they can all be handled by different people and experience different environments. By the time they set off for their trip, Elise had rotated with Edmond, the black poodle, to Pippin, the yellow lab.

“Pippin is a lovely boy. During our hike, Elise asked him to carry a stick as long as his body. It was hard not to laugh as we watched him try to navigate the trail. It was as if it were his duty. He was such a good boy in a brand-new space,” said Spisak.

When asked what he thought about Elise and Malea’s trip across the country with Pippin, Spisak did not hesitate.

“Elise has a genuine heart, and she inspires us. To take a service dog 5,000 miles across the country is amazing. She makes sure she is doing the right thing for the veteran on the other side of the process by the amount of time, care and effort she and her team puts forth with the service dogs. It’s a beautiful relationship and I am so honored to have established a new friendship with Malea, Elise, and Pippin,” said Spisak.

Spisak was so moved by the story of This Able Veteran, he immediately became a new fan and donor to the organization. To learn how you can support This Able Veteran, visit https://thisableveteran.org/how-you-can-help/donate-now/

#veterans #nonprofit #veteranlove #servicedogs #donate #thisableveteran #ptsd



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