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Operation Community Hearts: Drive beginning for deployed soldiers, Fort Drum families

in Charity/Employment/People 211 views

WATERTOWN — In the communities around Fort Drum, an effort is underway to provide support for military children and families, along with their loved ones overseas.

Teddy bears will be gathered for children left at home, while supplies, gifts and written letters will be collected and shipped to soldiers overseas.

Operation Community Hearts is the revamping of an effort from years ago that began with a then preteen Gavin E. Moran, who started a teddy bear drive at his family’s duty station of Fort Hood, Texas, as a bar mitzvah service project. This time, the efforts are headed by his parents Crystal D. and Allen G. Moran, with help from his brother Hunter A. Moran, local businesses, and Gavin himself from states away.

“Because it touched his life so much, he wanted to do something for military kids,” Mrs. Moran said of the origins of the drive Gavin began. “His father was deployed a lot, at least four times on main deployments to Afghanistan or Iraq, and then multiple tours that were just like regular training missions. My son received a teddy bear that he named Teddy when he was really little, given to him by his father, and it became his comfort when his dad was gone. He tapped into that, issued this project, and asked me for help.”

Mrs. Moran, who now works in distribution at the Times, recalls not knowing what to do the first time around. But now she knows how to get the project rolling. In Fort Hood, the family contacted news outlets to get the word out and found places to collect. Organizations and businesses allowed the family to place collection boxes at their sites. They gathered roughly 500 bears when the family was at Fort Hood.

As distribution got underway, Gavin did lots of talking and reaching out to people, Mrs. Moran said. When his father returned to the U.S., the family relocated to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where the second phase of the drive began. With some bears left over from the Fort Hood collection, they wanted to figure out a way to distribute them out to the community again, so Mrs. Moran and Gavin shared their idea with the community.

“We had the same reception, a lot of businesses wanted to get on board,” Mrs. Moran said. “By the time this whole thing was done, he had collected a thousand bears, it was pretty big. At that point, it reached a national level where a lot of people got information about what was going on.”

Gavin is now 25 and living in a different state than his family, but he still wants to be part of the drive.

This revamped drive will bring back his original teddy bear focus and add care packages for deployed soldiers and support for families. The project is in its early stages. The goal now is to spread the word and gather volunteers and donations.

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Former soldier talks life after the military, self-training husky as PTSD service dog

in Animals 226 views

WATERTOWN — On a quiet spring afternoon, Shawn M. Rafferty sat behind the counter at the 315 Artisan Market in the Salmon Run Mall, greeting customers and letting them know he’s available should they have questions about the products in the store. Periodically moving from behind the counter with her handler to keep an eye on things was his service dog, or Luna Marie Rafferty on the rare occasion her full name needs to be used.

The 3½-year-old canine, a trained PTSD service dog, has been attached to Mr. Rafferty, who served in the military for 19 years, since he brought her home.

“She picked me at the breeders, there was no denying that,” Mr. Rafferty said. “She picked me at 5 weeks old; 8 weeks old I was able to bring her home, and 9 weeks old I had a little ‘in training’ vest for her and had her out with me everywhere right from go.”

Mr. Rafferty acquired Luna, a purebred husky, in 2018 from a private breeder that was American Kennel Club certified. He knew that he wanted to train her as his service dog, though husky service dogs aren’t very common because they tend to have high-energy personalities. He said he took a lot of criticism and even had one trainer tell him she’d be happy to train Luna but would fail her because she’s a husky and “there was no way a husky would pass as a service dog.”

Determined to continue with his plan to train Luna as a service dog, Mr. Rafferty and Luna started going to Walmart a few times a day to get her socialized. He also brought as many kids around her as possible, figuring that if anything could break her calm, it would be them. But she proved able to handle whatever challenges were presented to her.

Early on, Mr. Rafferty researched how to train a service dog for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The basic service dog stuff is kind of obvious, there’s certain ways that a service dog would be expected to act in public, so that part was easy,” he said. “The problem was I found that there’s no training program for a PTSD service dog because everybody’s triggers are different; there’s no way to write a training protocol.”

He eventually found a Facebook group of people who self-taught their service dogs and said it all comes down to the fact that the dog has to understand the human. He also found his way back to the Americans with Disabilities Act guidance, which says dogs trained by their owners can be recognized as service dogs after they’ve been evaluated.

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