U.S. Army veteran and retired Staff Sgt. Randall Dexter had completed two tours in Iraq as a combat medic, before he completed his service in the military.
During one of those tours, Dexter's unit was hit with an improvised explosive device and he sustained a traumatic brain injury. Then, after he returned home, he took a second, severe, hit to his head during a flag football game.
Coupled with post-traumatic stress disorder, Dexter suffered from social anxiety disorder. He lived in a warrior transition unit at the Naval Medical Center, but those were dark days:
"It was all brutal," Dexter told TODAY, as he recalled the long list of medications he was prescribed back then. "I was contemplating suicide and was a hot mess."
That is, until he met Ricochet.
Sweet Ricochet saluted her new friend, retired Staff Sgt. Randall DexterJudy Fridono
Ricochet isn't your ordinary service dog: when her owner and handler, Judy Fridono, realized that her pup had a special gift for surfing, she refocused her work on tandem surfing.
Dexter and Ricochet were matched up by the service and therapy dog organization Paws'itive Teams in San Diego County.
"The minute Ricochet came up to me, my wife — who's also my caregiver — noticed a big change in me," Dexter told TODAY. "Ricochet has this amazing softness in her eyes. It was definitely a turning point when I met her."
Slowly, but surely, Dexter's mental health improved. Soon enough, he and Ricochet were catching waves together. The veteran and father of three young children was finally renewed and inspired.
"She gave me freedom and gave me my life back," he said.
Veteran Randall Dexter and SURF-ice dog, RicochetHeather Moana
Two years ago, Fridono and Ricochet helped to raise funds for Dexter to get his own service dog. Sure enough, the funds were raised and a second perfect match was made with Captain, a three-year-old, rescue Labrador-blue heeler mix.
Ever since he met Ricochet, this brave veteran has improved dramatically. With Captain by his side, life is looking up!
He returned to community college, became president of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, competed on the debate team and graduated successfully.
Now, he's hosting his own radio show, living in Las Vegas and working towards a degree in communications studies at the University of Nevada.
Left - Right: Ricochet, Dexter, CaptainJudy Fridono
This incredible success story is just further proof that the connection between humans and animals is a beautiful relationship that does indeed save lives.
Hear it in retired Staff Sgt. Randall Dexter's own words to his service dog, Captain. Get the tissues!
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