A retired Air Force Master Sergeant and Purple Heart recipient in Niceville is raising awareness that not all war wounds are visible.
When he retired, he realized war had changed him, and he needed some help. Someone to talk to, comfort him and show him companionship came in the form of Meli. She’s blonde with high energy, a loving personality and four paws.
Kenneth Gestring began his military career in 1986 when he joined the Air Force as a medic. On Jan. 6th, 2010, his life changed forever while he was in Afghanistan.
“Someone lobbed in a grenade in the midst of all of us,” Gestring said. “The explosion happened and blew most of us down to the ground.”
Gestring was able to pull himself up from the ground and administer first aid to the group. Five people died in the explosion.
“At that particular time, I really didn’t know how bad any of my injuries were,” Gestring said. “I didn’t realize that I had a traumatic brain injury, and I wasn’t thinking at the time that I was going to have any post-traumatic stress from it or anything like that.”
Kenneth retired in Nov. 2011.
“When he came back it was pretty obvious to me that he wasn’t the same man that left,” said Corina Gestring, Kenneth’s wife. “So, it was just a matter of trying to find out if it was a time thing that needed to pass and let some things settle or if it was something that really changed him.”
“When family and friends kind of know something’s not the same with you… As when you left and came back, you have to realize something might be wrong,” Gestring added.
After trying several different things to help, a doctor suggested adding a new member to the family. That’s when the Gestring’s were given Meli.
Meli the Labradoodle is just under a year old.
“She is just so calm natured and very lovable… And just has already done things so natural in trying to help me out,” Kenneth Gestring said.
He and Meli go almost everywhere together. From social outings to backyard playing, they’re inseparable.
“You can take all the medicines and all the therapies and all of those things, and they just don’t do the change and the difference that having an animal does, and with her, they’re just in tune,” Corina said. “They know.”
“Whenever she comes and wags her tail at me or brings me one of her little babies and wants to play or whatever — how it makes me feel inside, that joy that this animal is bringing to me,” Kenneth Gestring said.
Meli still has some training to do, but the improvements she’s already brought to the family are life changing.