David Tscherny gets some help for his post military service issues from his Patriot Paws pal Trooper. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell

A special Trooper for the troops

When Iraq war veteran David Tscherny of Grants Pass looked into Trooper's warm, brown eyes, the former Army sergeant knew he was a goner.

Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and a back injury caused by a mortar explosion, Tscherny, 39, had flown to Rockwall, Texas, on Nov. 1 to visit the nonprofit Patriot PAWS Service Dogs kennels. His mission was to find a service dog who could help him.

"As soon as they let the dogs out of their kennels for free time, he came over and stayed next to me," he recalled. "And when I started training with four dogs, he responded to me the best.

"Each day I came into the training center, he was like, 'I'm ready to work,' " he added.

It seems the 2-year-old service dog had made his choice, one which was reciprocated.

"I've only had him for 22 days, and I love him," Tscherny said as he tousled the pooch's handsome head with his hand.

Appearing to be part Rhodesian ridgeback and possibly German shepherd, Trooper daily accompanies Tscherny to Reconomy Restore, the second-hand shop he and his wife, Mihaela, own in Grants Pass. Weighing at least 90 pounds, the service dog always can be found within a few feet of the former soldier.

On command, Trooper will pick up his leash, a cell phone or whatever else the veteran needs.

"If I'm down on the ground and unable to get up, Trooper will brace by me to help me up," David Tscherny said. "Or if I tell him to take the phone and give it to mama (Mihaela), he will do that.

"If my back seizes up, he will go get mama," he continued. "If she is not there, he will get my oldest daughter. He will keep going until he gets someone to help."

The docile pooch also has found a comfortable home with the Tschernys, who have three young children.

"Oh yes, he is part of the family," Mihaela said. "The kids just love him. He's a very good dog."

Her husband, an outpatient at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics, recently took the dog to the White City facility for a visit.

"You could see he was lighting other veterans up by his presence," he said. "I really think he helps heal people just by being there for them.

"I would definitely recommend having a dog like this to any veteran," he added. "People have to realize not all injuries are physical. Soldiers have come home without a scratch on their body but they will never be the same."

A native of Long Beach, Calif., Tscherny spent 18 years in the Army before receiving a medical discharge. He had served as everything from a military police officer to a cavalry scout.

In 2004-05, he served in northern Iraq near Tikrit, where mortars frequently rained down on his unit.

"It was a hornet's nest," he said, noting his unit was tasked with providing security.

"What the opposition did was use the villages to snipe from windows or use a farm to launch mortars into our base," he said.

He can tell you about the day in mid-November 2005 when he carried a buddy wounded in the leg so the soldier could receive medical help. Sometime afterward, a mortar landed near Tscherny's armored vehicle, tossing him back against it, severely injuring his back, he said.

"I was blown backwards and hit the vehicle, bending me over it backwards," he explained.

He was sent to Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for rehabilitation. He was eventually diagnosed with 100 percent disability. Thirty percent was based on lack of mobility because of the lower back injury while the remaining 70 percent is PTSD, he said.

"When I first got back, I was angry, real angry," he said. "I still have nightmares and anxiety-panic attacks. But things are going a lot better for me now."

He credits the support he received from the VA as well as his family.

And, of course, Trooper.

"We share a similar background, him and I," the veteran said. "I was orphaned, fostered and adopted. He was adopted."

In fact, a Dallas, Texas, woman who brought the pup to Patriot PAWS informed him that her stepfather had originally rescued Trooper as a homeless puppy hanging around a garage in Albuquerque, N.M. When her stepfather became gravely ill, the dog alerted her mother each time her stepfather had breathing problems, the woman told Tscherny.

After her stepfather died, the woman took the young dog to Patriot PAWS so he would be of service to others, Tscherny said. "I think he was born to do this," he added.

As for Thanksgiving, Trooper will find something extra in his dish this holiday.

"He'll definitely have something special," Tscherny said. "I'm truly thankful we have him."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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