Armstrong’s ‘Healing Heroes’ Makes a Match

Leon Heaton served in the A Shau Valley, Vietnam, from 1969 to 1970 in the U.S. Army. Since his return home almost 50 years ago he has lost many nights of sleep to nightmares. He has a hard time being around large groups in public. He is typical of many veterans that have survived the horrors of combat.

Relief for Heaton began Veterans Cable Services contacted him with some good news: he would soon be getting a canine companion from Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, based in Williston, Florida.

The foundation trains service dogs and provides them to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Heaton found the opportunity through Armstrong Cable’s Healing Heroes program. Veterans Cable Services works with Armstrong in the initiative.

“I was with seven other recipients when we were paired with our dogs. Three of us were getting dogs to help us deal with our PTSD,” says Heaton.

Part of the donations for Armstrong’s Healing Heroes program this year came from the Canfield Junior Women’s League. The league presented $1,000 to Armstrong at the North Lima office last week in the presence of Heaton, along with his wife, Michelle, and new companion, Carson.

“One of our stated initiatives is that we give back to our veterans as well as the USO,” says Tina Gasior, president of the Women’s League. “It’s something we work on throughout the year.”

Gasior says the funds for the donation came mostly from the league’s annual fall market, held the third Thursday of September each year. The market features arts, crafts, antiques, produce, seasonal decor and even dog rescues.

Other local donors to Healing Heroes include Window Depot, Mahoning County Medical Society Alliance, Second Harvest Food Bank, Richard Ellashek Estate, Ascot Embroidery, Boardman Rotary and Youngstown Phantoms 50/50 raffles.

“We use television commercials, radio and mailers to get the word out for donations,” says Megan Ellashek, community marketing manager for Armstrong. “We have information on our website on how to sign up and donate.”

Armstrong has paid for 10 dogs through Heroes and has paired two with veterans since the program started on Veteran’s Day in 2016. Training each dog takes upward of 18 months.

“We at Armstrong have no part in the decision as to who gets a dog,” says Ellashek. ”Guardian chooses based on recipient needs and the dogs they have.”

Healing Heroes paid $22,000 for Heaton’s new companion, a two-year-old German shepherd.

“The dogs anticipate issues with the recipient,” says Jack Wagner, regional development director for Guardian Angels. ”If you’re having nightmares the dog will wake you up or if you are a diabetic and not taking your insulin, the dog will let you know.”

“My life is almost back to normal now that I can go out in public,” Heaton says. “That is something I could never do before. He is like a brother. We were all brothers in Vietnam, he’s a brother now.”

Pictured: Vietnam War veteran Leon Heaton, right, meets his new service dog, Carson, alongside Armstrong Cable strategic account executive Erin Sheader.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.