A Guardian Angel for a Guardian Angel

September 11, 2001 was a day that changed the lives of every American, and Mike was no different. After graduating from the University of Iowa, he found himself compelled to help fight America’s enemies. When deciding what to do in the Air Force, he asked his recruiter what was needed most–to which the recruiter replied, “We always need Guardian Angels, but not many ever make it that far”. Mike learned that Pararescue Specialists (PJ) were referred to as Guardian Angels in the U.S. Air Force due to their selfless and often thankless service. Ready to do whatever was needed for his country, Mike worked his way up to don the coveted Maroon Beret of a US Air Force Pararescueman in September of 2005. 

While his recruiter set his expectations for a dangerous job, Mike was ready for the 20+ combat missions on his deployment to Afghanistan and the battle scars he endured from parachuting and diving–though he was not prepared for the injuries that remained dormant for years after his service. 

When he was tasked with the mission of fatherhood after the birth of his first child, Zoe, in 2012, Mike noticed something within him he was unfamiliar with: fear. 

“Fatherhood sits just on the other side of the door in front of me, and for the first time in my life I was afraid to kick down that door and execute the mission.”

Mike knew he needed a teammate with the same mission he had, and with his wife, Kelli, on her own mission of motherhood, he realized that though their paths of parenting were intertwined as partners, there were diversions in their paths where they each would have to focus on their own respective operations. 

“For the next 7 years I continued to be a father the best I knew how. And what father doesn’t get their family a dog!”

It was a delicate operation to tackle, as he knew that Kelli was adamant about having a dog in the house–even to this day. So Mike had to come up with a strategy that would be a ‘win-win’ for everyone. That strategy lead him to the Puppy Jake Foundation, though it had never occurred to him that his selfless service as a Pararescueman was deserving of one of their dogs. In March of 2020, Mike took action and submitted his application for a service dog.

“It was a humbling experience to fill out the application, as it was an indication that I was not able to continue with my mission without help. I was submitting my plea request for my own Guardian Angel. JACKPOT was the lucky dog to get tapped on the shoulder and help this old PJ out of a bind. That she did!”

Jackpot joined the family with nothing but love and a call for duty on her shoulders, immediately diving into her mission. They became a two-man unit on that day, and they’ve been that way ever since. There have been several occasions where Jackpot has directly intervened to help Mike with a situation related to PTS, and not only that, but she reminds him everyday that there’s always someone there to watch his back and help him on his mission.

“JACKPOT reminds me that the fight isn’t on distant shores anymore; it’s right here in Urbandale, IA, where the mission is to be a dedicated husband and father, living as long as possible for yourself and those who love you. She reminds me that the PJ mission remains; to be there when someone needs you most, not by HALO jumping in like a Guardian Angel, but by waking up and beginning the day with your tail wagging, ears perked back, and eyes wide open.”

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