CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, NM – Eastern New Mexico University’s football team won their third game of the season September 23, 2017, with the Greyhounds beating Angelo State 31-21 and improving their record to 3-1. Accurate passes, long runs and big hits highlighted the rain-soaked match; however, the biggest play of the night didn’t happen during the game. It happened before the first whistle was even blown.
Tech. Sgt. Michael Farthing, 16th Special Operations Squadron aerial gunner on the AC-130W Stinger II, received a service dog during a ceremony before the start of the military appreciation game at Al Whitehead Field in Portales, New Mexico. He was joined by family, friends and colleagues to support him in the big moment.
“I was extremely nervous,” Farthing said. “Dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the anxiety never really leaves. I was worried more than anything that everything would go smooth. The rain put a damper on things for a while but my family who are a major support system for me helped keep me grounded and calm.”
Farthing stood on the track at the 50-yard line as the announcer spoke of his accomplishments and dedicated service during his time in the Air Force. Then, his service dog, “Diesel,” was brought out to him as the crowd erupted in cheers.
“Receiving Diesel and seeing my Gunship family in the stands, along with my family and commander behind me, was very emotional,” Farthing explained. “Happiness, excitement, humility – all these things were rushing through me. Seeing the support of my squadron members in those stands was unlike anything I can describe.”
Farthing has flown 1,400 combat hours on more than 10 deployments including 270 combat missions, where he faced the threat of manned portable air defense systems and anti-aircraft artillery. Through Rebuilding Warriors, a program that pairs service dogs with military members who have been diagnosed with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injuries as well as amputees. Farthing was able to receive Diesel.
“Rebuilding Warriors has given me more than a dog, they have given me a fresh start,” Farthing said. “Jeff Anderson, founder of Rebuilding Warriors, is more than a veteran himself. He’s a mentor. He came out to Clovis and spent several days with me and Diesel and did more than train me on how to handle Diesel. He became a friend and a mentor. He spent time with my family, got to know me on a personal level, and has helped give me a new drive for the future.”
It is this new drive and companion that will help Farthing move forward as he acknowledges fully the impact Diesel will have on his life. Through his process of rehabilitation, he gives advice to those who also may be in need of help.
“Service dogs serve a purpose, it’s not something to take lightly. They are highly trained and need the highest of care and attention. It is different from an emotional support or therapy dog, as those don’t have the same legal rights as a service animal. But the most important advice I can give is that if you are struggling, or you see someone struggling take the first step to get help. Having a service dog is something that can be looked into later down the road, the most important thing is your health. A medical professional should be able to recognize if a service dog will fit you and your condition. But with the right fit, they can save lives just like I believe Diesel has helped save mine.”