Rob Springer and his best friend Puma are enjoying a little sunshine and a a rare outing away from home.
Rob and Puma have been together for about three years, a bond that became necessary after Rob returned from overseas…
"I don't want to get out, I don't want to be bothered. The only one that gives me comfort is my dog Puma."
Rob Springer spent over nine months in the Middle East, four months in Iraq, a month in Afghanistan, and the rest of the time in Qatar. He was a medic nurse-his job was to heal his fellow soldiers and he took great pride in serving his country. It was the best and worst experience of his life.
"My first night in Iraq…incoming rockets and missiles were coming in and I jumped out of bed and went under the bed and had the Kevlar over me. It took awhile to get used to it."
Springer returned stateside in 2007 and moved back into civilian life with his wife and his two kids, son James and daughter Kaitlyn.
"Man that was awesome to be home with my family."
It was awesome, until it wasn't anymore. Rob said he knew right away something just wasn't right. He wasn't sleeping well, and he just felt lost-like he didn't belong in his own skin.
It was then that Springer discovered that he had PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a very common condition for soldiers who return from the war.
"You don't have control over being able to do that, to get up when the alarm rings or etc. It's a frustrating feeling that you can't perform like you did before."
Rob struggled through a job at the VA and had a hard time dealing with life----it was also around that time that his wife decided that she too had enough.
"It's not only affected me, it's affected obviously I think that's why my ex wanted to divorce me. She couldn't deal with it."
Before he left for the war, Rob Springer had it all, he had his health, his family, and his good fortune. But in a flash, that was all gone. And just when he thought things couldn't get any worse, when he couldn't slip deeper into depression, he got the phone call that no father should ever have to take.
"This is my daughter, she passed away December 19th, 2009. She was hit in a cross walk, a driver ran my ex and them down. She didn't survive that. That's been tough for me, very tough. I miss her a lot. She was my first born child, daddy's little girl."
It's been just over two years since Kaitlyn died. Rob lives in Tallahassee, with Puma in a small apartment near FSU while his ex-wife and son live in Jacksonville. He still doesn't leave the house much, only to go to the dog park and buy groceries. His life is lived in a constant state of fear, because that's what he learned in Iraq, and even today, he can't help but wonder what's around the corner.
"Always on alert, always on guard and I'm still that way when I go out to places. I sit where I can sit and see everything and anyone coming in for any type of threats."
But with Puma, there's no threat, just an unconditional love that Rob Springer hasn't had in years. He says he's closer to his dog than he is his own son, a testament to just how much his four legged friend has helped him.
"When you are dealing with PTSD, anxiety, depression or the loss of a daughter, all put together in a few years-he's been my four legged angel."
First tour of duty as an Infantryman was with the Active Army from APR 1986(Delayed Entry Program) -> JUL 1988 @ FT Carson, CO with 1st Battalion 8th Infantry Regiment 4rth Infantry Division.
Second tour of duty as an Infantryman/Commo/& M-60 Gunner summer 1992 was @ FT Sherman, Panama Jungle Operations Training Center(JOTC) with Florida Army National Guard Bravo Company 1st Battalion 1st-12th Infantry Regiment out of West Palm Beach, FL
Third tour of duty summer 1999 was @ El Cuco, El Salvador Operation New Horizons with US Army Reserves 345th Combat Support Hospital 81st Reserves Readiness Command out of JAX NAS, Jacksonville, FL
Fourth tour of duty MAY 2004 -> FEB 2005 was OIF x1 OEF x3 with Central Command as a Joint Team Medic served in Iraq 4 months, Afghanistan 1 month, Uzbekistan 1 month, Qatar about 2.5 months. I served with the 1st CAV, 101st Airborne, 82nd Airborne, 4rth Infantry Division, and quite a few others.
Fifth tour of duty OEF was as a Senior Arms/Weapons Instructor SEP 2007 -> SEP 2008 @ FT Hunter-Liggett, CA
Also: Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for Service Members still serving, Veterans, and their family/friends