ST. LOUIS – The place: Helen Fitzgeralds Grill and Pub in South County.
The target: Marine Cpl. Justin McLoud.
The mission: Operation Puppy Surprise.
“These young men and women give so much and to be able to give something back to them,” says Sue McNamara. “It’s an amazing feeling.”
Sue McNamara is a self-described amateur dog trainer with ties to the military.
“We are a military family,” she explains. “The last five of six generations have served.”
Through her work with the non-profit Joshua Chamberlain Society she heard that Cpl. McLoud was interested in getting a service dog. It’s her connections that made this mission possible.
We’ve been following the journey of Cpl. Justin McLoud since 2010. We were in San Diego, where the now 26-year-old was learning to use his prosthetics after being badly wounded in northern Afghanistan.
“The first mission we went out on,” he recalled. “I’d say 200 meters outside the wire we got ambushed.”
The third battalion, fifth Marines out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. drew one of the wars most deadly assignments, pushing Taliban fighters out the area.
“If you’re heads not in the game, you’re definitely going to mess up,” said Cpl. McLoud.
McLoud was the point man on foot patrols, meaning he was upfront in charge of navigation. In early December of 2010 while crossing a bridge, a member of his squad didn’t see the road side bomb.
“He stepped on it and then I got hit, it threw me up in the air. I landed and tried to pick up my weapon. That’s when I could tell my arm was all mangled and stuff,” he says.
Not only his arm but both his legs. He doesn’t remember the pain or how close he came to dying.
“The reports said I did die,” says McLoud. “They had to revive me in the helicopter”
Though he’d lost three limbs, he faced his new challenges just like he faced the enemy with courage and determination.
A few months later, he received a hero’s welcome when he returned to St. Louis for the first time since he was wounded. When the crowd goes home though life goes on.
“I wanted to help so bad as soon as I heard about this, ” says Nick Hall.
Hall is from Hall Kennels in Defiance, Mo.
He trains service and personal protection dogs.
As soon as Sue McNamara called him, he offered up his services to train a dog that would make life just a little easier for Cpl. McLoud.
“Anything that he wants to pick up across the room we’re going to be able to shine a laser pointer at it and that dog is going to run over there pick it up and bring it back to him, “Hall explained.
Back at Helen Fitzgerald’s, Justin was invited to lunch to discuss the possibility of getting a service dog. He had no idea that after lunch that he was going to get the puppy.
His new best friend is an adorable 7-week-old black labrador puppy. Justin was both surprised and grateful.
“There are people out there that are willing to help people in my condition ,” he says. “It’s amazing. It’s a very good feeling and stuff too that people actually care.”
Before Justin’s dog is a service dog, it will take aboutone year of training six days a week, and Justin will be a part of that training.
“So everything I’ve got the dog doing reliably. Then he’s going to come out and work the dog on those exercises, “says Hall.
Sometimes, the smallest things can mean everything. This yet-to-be-named puppy will one day not only keep watch over Cpl. McLoud, she’ll keep him company.
For all those who pulled off Operation Puppy Surprise, it was
“Just a labor of love,” says McNamara.