Service Dog is Gifted to Marine Veteran

Service Dog is Gifted to Marine Veteran

A Louisiana Marine Corps veteran received a special gift this month, as he was among 16 veterans nationwide to be gifted a service dog free of charge.

Cameron Morrow was honored on Dec. 7 at one of 11 events held by the American Warrior Initiative (AWI) simultaneously from Delaware to California, as 16 service dog grants were awarded to 16 veterans who had expressed a need to the organization. Each veteran and their family received a $5,000 grant to help them in any way they needed.

AWI loan officer Angela Dowden of Fairway Mortgage attended the Leesville event and said it was very emotional for everybody.

In Dowden's words, "I really don’t have the words to describe this experience," he said. “It blew my mind, truly, at all the selfless giving from Fairway and its employees, and then to witness the impact it made in the lives of these veterans. Just amazing to be able to see and be a part of.”

As the founder of the American Warrior Initiative, Louise Thaxton, Fairway's Vernon Parish branch manager, founded it in 2011 to help bridge the gap between civilians and military members. After working on her very first Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) loan for an active-duty military member, she first set out to help veterans.

When Hurricane Rita struck in 2005, Thaxton and her family lived in Many and operated their own farm business. Following the storm, Thaxton struggled to pick up the pieces of her farm business and support her family. When she began working as a loan officer, she struggled to fit in.

As a result, her first VA loan was written for an active-duty military member purchasing a home in the local area. Although it was her first experience with the military community, it would not be her last.

“As I sat across from this soldier at the closing table and began having a conversation with them, I realized there are so many challenges these soldiers and their families face throughout their time serving. It’s more than most people, definitely myself, realized at that time and it was such an eye-opening moment for me,” Thaxton said.

Her mission and purpose were clear at that moment. During this time, Thaxton specialized in VA loans and trained other loan officers in the numerous states where Fairway Mortgage operated.

This passion was the catalyst for creating the American Warrior Initiative. Through payroll deductions from 11,000 employees, the nonprofit organization provides services to veterans outside of the mortgage office. Fairway's CEO, Steve Jacobsen, took notice shortly after the mission's inception, offering his support.

The nonprofit organization, funded by payroll deductions from its employees across the country, intends to serve veterans outside the mortgage office. As soon as the mission was launched, Fairway's CEO, Steve Jacobsen, noticed and offered support.

Thaxton said that the support the company receives from other employees and leaders, the organization has accomplished some fantastic things for veterans.

Since its founding, the organization has helped replace roofs, provide financial assistance for medical expenses, and assist with family needs for veterans across the nation. There was one veteran in particular in 2019 who added fuel to the fire of AWI.

The veteran was David Proctor. As a veteran of many Middle East tours, Proctor suffered severe post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD). AWI decided to give Proctor a service dog since he had not left the house for three years.

“That changed so much; for us and for David. He has since told us that this dog saved his life, and that opened up a whole new level of assistance that we knew we needed to provide,” Thaxton stated.

AWI has partnered with Custom K9s to assist veterans who need service dogs trained for their specific needs. Thaxton said the response has been incredible, and for 2021 she has set a goal of providing 100 service dogs to 100 veterans. She plans on surpassing that goal by Dec. 31.

Thaxton said of the 16 dogs granted to servicemembers through Custom K9s, 13 dogs were for the loss of the 13 military men who died in Afghanistan in August.

This honor was significant for Morrow, who named his service dog Rylee after Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum was fatally wounded in Afghanistan.

For Morrow and his family, the event marked a new beginning, and for Thaxton, it allowed her to reflect on her first closing more than a decade ago.

“I can remember thinking that my world was over when we lost our farming business, and now I see how God can do some amazing things when we let him. What I thought was the worst thing ever to happen to me was actually a blessing that has given me a purpose and a reason. I’m thankful every day for what I’m able to do to help the men and women who sacrifice so much to serve our country.”