MISSOULA – To say that Marine Corps Captain Jason Haag has served his time is an understatement.

In 2003, Captain Haag was shot by a machine gun while battling overseas. In 2008 and 2009, his convoy struck an IED. Captain Haag served 13 years before being medically retired after his combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan.

As he struggled with the after-effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, Jason reached out for a post-battle buddy, a service dog named Axel.

“The relationship I’ve built with Axel is definitely as a best friend, but he is also my caretaker, my caregiver,” Captain Haag said. “He is the one that helps me every day. He is the one that gets me through from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed.”

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Axel is a six-year-old German Sheppard that helps Jason cope with anxiety and flashbacks triggered by his experiences fighting abroad.

“He will wake me up in the middle of the night when I’m screaming in a nightmare,” Captain Haag said. “He’ll actually either lick my face or pin me down or something like that to wake me up.”

Axel was named the winner in the Service Dog category at the 2015 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards. Captain Haag, along with Axel tour the country educating policymakers and warriors on the importance of service dogs. In May of 2017, Haag, along with two other veterans, opened up Leashes of Valor, a 20-acre farm in rural Virginia. They provide service dogs to wounded and disabled veterans suffering from PTSD.

“The relief that I get, I guess is that knowing hopefully that I’m not going to lose another one of my friends,” Captain Haag said. “Since February of last year, I’ve unfortunately had to bury a friend every month. It’s gotten pretty rough. If we can stop that, I know we’re doing something right.”

Service dogs are not cheap; it cost roughly $25,000 to train a dog. Leashes of Valor is doing everything possible to keep these costs down, so veterans can receive the care they need.

Leashes of Valor will be donating two professionally-trained service dogs to two Montana Veterans. This event is open to the public and will be held Thursday, Oct. 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

MTN’s Kent Luetzen