TAMPA (WFLA) — Kelly Smith lost her arm in Iraq in 2007 tending to children who were injured in a bombing at a local school.
“We were taking care of some of the kids and things when our explosion happened,” Smith said.
Doctors re-attached her arm and the former Naval petty officer continued to serve for eight more years.
“It’s your identity,” Smith said. “It’s how I defined myself.”
But with little functionality, she decided to fully amputate her left arm in 2015. She said she wasn’t allowed to stay in the military afterwards — and that’s when things began to go downhill.
“Everywhere I went, I kept getting into fights,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to be part of my family.”
“Then I was introduced to Cook. He opened up my world.”
Smith is an alumna of Sierra Delta, an organization founded by Marine Corps veteran BJ Ganem that helps train service dogs and match them with military veterans.
There are 18 million veterans in the U.S., but Ganem says only a few thousand of them have service dogs.
“One of the things that makes us different is that we look at the existing dogs in the [veteran’s] household, and what training we can do on them to match the specific needs of the veteran,” said Ganem.
Getting more service dogs to veterans who need them is an effort supported by the head of MacDill Air Force Base.
“Service dogs, we know, have a significantly positive psychological effect,” said Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of Central Command at MacDill. “And they can also help with the physical aspects of a combat injury. So I am fully supportive of that, and we will do everything we can to assist in that area.”
Smith said with Cook by her side, she’s been able to reconnect with her family, and have a life again.
“Now, life is wonderful,” Smith said. “And with Cook by my side, we know we can do just about anything.”