FORT BELVOIR, Virginia –
A dog is said to be “a man’s best friend,” but for this Defense Logistics Agency Energy employee a dog is much more.
Jason Searls and his service dog, Hawkeye, are working together to heal deep emotional wounds.
Proclaimed as “my dad’s doctor dog,” Hawkeye, a yellow Labrador Retriever, has transformed a seemingly impossible life to one filled with purpose and hope.
Searls suffers from complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. A prior police officer, Marine, and war veteran, he was afraid to leave home. Eleven years of police activity, warfighting in Afghanistan and struggling to reassimilate out of uniform had taken its toll on his mental and physical health.
Traumatic memories creep into his daily activities. He couldn’t participate in family activities and didn’t want to socialize with anyone. His wife had to take on the role of provider and caretaker.
“I was exposed to many different traumatic experiences that I completely ignored at the time,” Searls said. “I was young and felt it was a weakness to recognize those events for what they were.”
Prescribed multiple prescriptions, his struggle continued until the one day his psychiatrist asked him, “do you like dogs?”
“My Veteran Affairs hospital mental health provider recommended an organization, Leashes of Valor, that specialize in providing and training service dogs for post-September 11 military veterans,” Searls said.
That’s how Searls was paired up with Hawkeye in early 2020. Today, Hawkeye is his wingman in more ways than one.
“Many people look at Hawkeye as a dog, but according to the Americans with Disabilities Act he is no different than a wheelchair for someone who can’t walk, or insulin for a diabetic,” Searls said. “He is not my ‘doggy’ that I ‘get’ to take everywhere with me, but rather a living breathing medical device that treats my medical diagnoses.”
Hawkeye is trained to observe Searls behavior.
“When he senses a change – visibly or via chemical scent – that an anxiety attack is coming on or I’m beginning to have any type of flashback or trigger, Hawkeye interrupts it,” Searls said. “Hawkeye will wake me from nightmares and provides a level of security to my hyper vigilance. Because I know when he is resting and calm next to me, there isn’t any threats.”
I wish more people could recognize him for what he can do and does for me, Searls said.
“He’s allowed me to stop taking all previously prescribed medications and start living life again with and for my family,” he said. “Small things that people take for granted, like going grocery shopping or to a child’s open house for school or attending youth sporting events, I can now do.”
A man’s best coworker
Searls started his career with DLA Energy as a Pathways to Career Excellence Intern in September 2018. He is currently on a detail receiving experience and credentials toward assignment as an Inventory Management Specialist position in Life Cycle Logistics.
“Hawkeye has been life changing, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Searls said. “Previously, I didn’t go out or leave home except for work. With Hawkeye, I found myself looking for reasons to leave my home during the pandemic and find new things for Hawkeye and me to overcome as a team.”
Searls and Hawkeye tested their abilities to overcome situations while taking COVID precautions.
“It was important in our new bond as a service dog/handler team and it gave me a purpose,” he said. “While I live for my family, I wasn’t living for myself, and Hawkeye has helped to change that.”
By November 2020, Searls had earned DAWIA Level I and II Product, Quality, & Manufacturing certifications and served as a Combined Federal Campaign volunteer.
For the past 19 months, Hawkeye has helped Searls live a more normal life.
“It’s not always fun talking about some of your worst parts of your life,” he said. “Sharing helps someone else know they aren’t alone and there are options.”
October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This year's theme is "America's Recovery: Powered by Inclusion." The theme reflects the importance of appreciating differences and hiring individuals with disabilities, especially during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.