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Benghazi hero Mark “Oz” Geist, a former Marine, is making a difference in the lives of American veterans by partnering them with service dogs to help them through their lives in a variety of ways.
And not only that – through his work, Geist pays tribute to veterans. Noting vets. Respect them and connect with them.
It is mission critical. Geist’s 501c3 foundation, Shadow Warriors Project, partners with Baden K-9 to provide service dogs to veterans. Baden K-9 is a second-generation company, currently owned by Joshua Perry, dog trainer and military contractor.
The group integrates the dogs into law enforcement and the military – and also deals with training and breeding.
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Geist told Fox News Digital over the weekend that one of the most difficult things for veterans “is the transition from the military to the civilian world. Sometimes they need help with that transition and to be part of something again.”
That’s why the two bands – Shadow Warriors Project and Baden K-9 – were a major presence this past weekend at the Barefoot Music Festival in Wildwood, NJ.
They held a K9 donation ceremony for combat veteran Dave Eckerson, who served 23 years in the Marine Corps.
In many ways, his story is emblematic of the thousands upon thousands of American veterans who deserve support and respect for all they have done for our nation.
A common mission
After being injured in the Benghazi terrorist attack, Mark Geist started the Shadow Warriors project to help private security companies and their families.
Geist was a famous member of the Annex Security Team who fought in Benghazi, Libya from September 11, 2012 to September 12, 2012. He told his fascinating story as co-author of the bestselling book, “1:00 p.m.: The inside story of what really happened in Benghazi.”
They want to “make 22 zero again” – a reference to the 22 American veterans who die by suicide every day in this country.
Over the years, the Shadow Warrior Project has been able to develop a canine program to pair partner service dogs with combat veterans.
Mark Geist and Joshua Perry share a common mission. They want to “make 22 zero again” – a reference to the 22 American veterans who die by suicide every day in this country.
“This is a pandemic that we really should be paying more attention to,” Geist said over the weekend. “Since this war began in 2001, more than 60,000 veterans have committed suicide.”
Perry added: “By doing 22 zero again, our statement is, ‘It’s worth another day’.”
“Recognize service and sacrifice”
Shadow Warriors Project (shadowwarriorsproject.org) has been chosen as the official charity of the Barefoot Music Festival to educate thousands of participants and spectators about veteran suicide.
As part of the festival, Shadow Warriors Project honored one of its own veterans and his family with a service dog.
“We recognize the service and sacrifice of the veteran and his family through this donation,” Perry said.
Donation recipient Dave Eckerson said he felt “blessed” to be part of the Shadow Warriors project and the Baden K-9 family.
Perry also noted, “It’s also entertaining and an opportunity for people in the audience to see the ‘make 22 zero’ mission.”
Along with the service dog presentation, the Baden K-9 group also performed a military kinetic canine demonstration.
Donation recipient Dave Eckerson – who after serving in the Marine Corps worked under contract – said he felt “blessed” to be part of the Shadow Warriors project and the Baden K-9 family.
Eckerson and Geist joined the Marine Corps at the same time, in 1984.
“God works mightily”
Since last year, when he started looking for a service dog, “it’s been an incredible journey,” Eckerson told Fox News Digital.
“I was selected last year to attend a canine therapy program in Navasota, Texas, along with four other veterans. Shortly after, Mark called me and let me know he was going to assign me a dog.”
“It’s not just an organization, it’s more than that – it’s a family.”
Eckerson traveled to the Barefoot Music Festival in NJ from South Carolina with his wife and children. He noted that it was the first Father’s Day they could all spend time together as a family since 2005.
“God works mightily,” he said. “I’m truly blessed, humbled and honored to be a part of this. It’s not just an organization, it’s more than that – it’s a family.”
Geist and Perry also discussed the transition from military to civilian life and how their programs are designed to help this aspect of American veterans’ lives.
Perry said, “When they [the military service members] get out, this mission changes. They need to be a father now, they need to be employed now, they need to refocus.”
“The program dogs used by Baden K-9, as well as the partnership with Shadow Warriors Project – it’s consistent. They’re working dogs. They’re combat dogs and military dogs.”
“Everyone in the family [needs to be] part of the decision to bring another family member into their life.”
Canine donation recipients are usually referred to Project Shadow Warriors by friends, who can complete an online application to receive canine service or take the canine therapy course.
From there, the agency validates the applicant’s veteran status and then conducts a home visit.
“When we do a home visit, it’s to see that all family members are part of the decision to bring another family member into their lives,” Geist explained.
“What we don’t want is to insert a dog into a situation where there is already stress and anxiety, and not everyone in the family is okay with it.”
“We have a gift”
Both Geist and Perry are rooted in their faith; they begin each day with a prayer.
“I didn’t find Jesus in a church,” Perry revealed. “Found him on my hands and knees in my driveway. I’m trying as best I can to serve him.”
“The dog is that sword that we can not only bring back for veterans, but we bring that sword into families.”
“I know we have a gift,” Perry also acknowledged. “The dog is that sword that we can not only bring back for veterans, but we bring that sword into families.”
With that in mind, Perry commented on the pressing issue of school safety today.
“It’s always been a big thing – not just [for] schools, but churches and synagogues,” he said. “There are all kinds of needs for families.
He said his company’s family protection program “allows us to secure the lives” of families.
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He also commented, “You know, dogs are deterrents. They can stop things from happening. They make people think.”
“There are human beings out there who for some reason aren’t afraid to come up against other human beings. [But] they don’t like dogs… Dogs are dissuasive. They can detect intent.”