CONSTRUCTING A RECOVERY: How PAUL GOMEZ
& ELLIE JO BUILT A BRIGHTER FUTURE
MEET LIEUTENANT COLONEL PAUL GOMEZ:
After 24 years of military service, including 12 years each of both active duty and reserve time in the U.S. Marine Corps, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Gomez closed an honorable and impressive chapter in life when he was medically discharged in 2020. A former member of the FBI as well, Paul commanded a unit in Iraq and faced extreme combat while serving in Afghanistan.
As the dust of battle began to settle however, the relentless weight of PTSD began to wear him down. Paul spent years navigating various therapy treatment programs, not only grappling with PTSD but also wrestling with major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder.
Though he'd considered the idea of a service dog in the past, it wasn't until he'd stepped down from his primary duties with the FBI that he felt truly ready to take the leap—and it changed his life forever.
"Just having that constant companionship, especially for someone who might be isolating, whether self-induced or induced by other factors... I think it’s really important.”
BUILDING A NEW LIFE WITH A BATTLE BUDDY AT HIS SIDE.
Paul's quest for a service dog brought him to MK9s Service Dogs, where he was introduced to a Labrador Retriever named Ellie Jo, bred, nurtured, and donated by Project 2 Heal. While they are practically inseparable today, their journey together began in the fall of 2020 with a gradual process of socialization and training. By this point, Paul was medically retired from the FBI and took a job with MITRE Corporation, where he continued to work on national security related projects. Given the sensitive nature of this work, Ellie Jo became the first Project 2 Heal pup that we're aware of to be vetted by the USG for access into classified spaces!
In the midst of Paul's harrowing battle with mental health, Ellie Jo emerged as his steadfast pillar of support. She infused structure into his life, steering him towards goals, even amid the turbulent challenges of 2020. Her visits during their training acted as a lifeline, helping to bridge the chasm between a PTSD treatment program he attended and last recovery.
"When you walk out of that environment, which is a great place because you learn so much about yourself and how you work, your depression and symptoms don't magically go away," Paul said. "There's a disconnect between treatment and sustained healing—Ellie Jo has been that for me."
BUILDING A VISION TO HELP OTHER VETERANS PURSUE SUSTAINED HEALING.
While Ellie Jo has become an integral part of his life, Paul understands that there is more to sustaining a sense of healing and purpose. "You need multiple angles to keep yourself going," he says. For Paul, this has taken the form of Warriors Building, a construction company he's built from the ground up. He's currently still in the process of building the business, but his goal is to one day be able to employ other veterans and provide them with the sense of purpose that he's found through hands-on work.
Completing a Construction Management program through Purdue University, Paul formed a plan to pair mental health support with vocational training. "I think the combination of hands-on work and mental health support is a strong model for success in terms of recovery," Paul said.
By his side at each construction site is Ellie Jo. Her presence in the office not only helps Paul remain calm and focused, but also spreads joy to everyone she meets, helping him better connect with other people.
For Paul's family and friends, Ellie Jo's impact is nothing short of remarkable. She has not only shattered the walls of his self-imposed isolation but also enabled him to embrace the world more fully. Their shared experiences, from the day-to-day support she provides to the lasting memories they've made—like their triumphant graduation from the MK9s training program—have helped shape Paul's positive outlook on life.
In his own heartfelt words, Ellie Jo's unwavering companionship has been a lifeline for Paul, a poignant reminder of the significance of facing each day with purpose, bolstered by the unwavering support of a loyal friend. Their story is a living testament to the indomitable bond between a veteran and a service dog, offering a beacon of hope and healing on an extraordinary journey of recovery.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul Gomez
United States Marine Corps
Monthly donors—which we call, "Healing Pawtners"—are the foundation of Project 2 Heal and our mission of reducing the cost and time it takes to place a service dog with a person in need. We're the only nonprofit in the country dedicated to breeding, nurturing, and donating Labrador Retriever puppies to become service dogs for veterans, children with special needs, and adults with disabilities. Our work can change—and in some cases, save—lives of people in need.
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