Retired Marine Captain Jason Haag’s challenge to stay alive only intensified as he left the carnage of war behind him. Our May 2022 NFM Salute gives us a window into the long road many of service members face when they return from intense combat. His story is sure to move you.

Full Transcript is Below:

– Welcome to our May, 2022 NFM Salute. I’m Greg Sher. Retired Marine Captain Jason Haag suffered multiple injuries while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. They left his body battered and his mind tortured. As a civilian, he sunk to unthinkable lows until a dog named Axel literally saved his life. Jason joins us now from Bowling Green, Virginia from Leashes of Valor headquarters to share his unbelievable story and his purpose. Jason, thanks for agreeing to be our NFM Salute for the month of May, 2022 and thank you for your service.

– Gregory, thank you so very much for having us. We’re really looking forward to being able to share our story and let everybody know about Leashes of Valor and what you guys are doing for us to help us continue our mission.

– Normally only my mother gets to call me Gregory, but you are a real living hero, so I’m gonna let you get away with this. The story of how you ended up serving in the first place, it’s not that complicated, right? You were a troubled kid, you had a lot of problems and you got in front of a judge who said what to you at the age of what?

– I think I was 18. Basically the judge told me that you got two choices. You can either go to jail and make 17 cents an hour or you can go back to the service that you were supposed to join and actually do something with your life. And luckily for me, as an 18 year old, and my dad standing beside me slapped me in my head and said, “You’re gonna go make the right decision.” And I believe I did for sure.

– Well, you joined the Marine Corps in December of 1999. So you got into it and before you knew it, the Towers were on fire. What do you remember about that day and where were you?

– I remember a lot about that day. It’s like it happened yesterday. We had actually just gotten off of our first deployment, or my first deployment as a Marine, we were on guard duty at Camp Pendleton, had just gotten off a 24 hour shift, had just gotten home to my brand new wife, Elizabeth, was actually taking off my cammies, about to get into bed because I’d been up for 24 hours and I got a call from my father. He’s like, “Hey, you see what’s happening right now? Turn the TV on.” And as soon as I turned the TV on, I watched the second plane go into the second tower. And I told my dad at that point, I have to go, I gotta get back to work. And I didn’t come home for probably six months as we got spun up on a guard duty and tried to ensure that we weren’t hit again on the west coast, spun up for a significant deployment or at least what we thought was gonna be our first taste of combat to go Tajikistan and was actually sitting on the tarmac Christmas Eve of 2002 while my wife was at home. So yeah, when the towers fell, it became incredibly real, very fast.

– And I know in getting to know you, that you’re very emotional about it, and we’re not gonna touch on it more than just this final question. What is it about it that gets you so emotional? Is it what followed and the memories you have from serving or is it that exact day?

– I think it’s all of the culminating effects on that we got hit with our pants down. To say that I’m a little bitter about what happened, I guess would probably be an understatement but it has shaped my life and been able to meet and to do some incredibly great things because of it.

– You were a part of an invasion in Iraq in 2003 and those were some very trying times for the United States military. What do you recall about that? I know you were wounded, it’s one of several times where you got hit.

– Yeah, I mean, I don’t wanna highlight that too much, it kind of points out that I’m not too great at war. So, I wasn’t too amazing at my job. But yeah in ’03, I’ll have to say that that was probably the worst deployment or the worst combat deployment that I did, like I was living in a hole in the ground, getting shot at, getting blown up the whole time. So I didn’t take a shower for, I think it was 120 days.

– When you make that comment that you don’t like to talk about it very much because you weren’t very good at that. I wanna know is that a serious comment? Like, is that a guilt that you carry with you? Is that real or is that you just kind of tongue and cheeking it because obviously there’s a lot of circumstances out of your control when you’re in that kind of environment.

– I think for me, it’s a coping mechanism. To be able to tongue and cheek it and to actually still be here and be able to say that, that yeah, I am bad at war. Like in all honesty, you’re not supposed to get shot, you’re not supposed to get blown up. In reality, in my mind, I know that an inch to the left or an inch to the right or one second earlier, one second afterward. And so many things could have been incredibly different.

– And so you retired in 2013 and tried to make the challenging transition to civilization. I know that you struggled deeply, your marriage was affected. You were at one time on 32 different kinds of medicines, including 12 narcotics. And you credit a dog named Axel for saving your life. Tell us about that.

– I absolutely credit him with saving my life. At my worst point after I retired, I tried everything under the sun to try to get better, talk therapy, group therapy, acupuncture, you name it, putting your head in a bucket of water and that didn’t work either. Luckily for me, my wife at the time cared about me enough and that’s where she pushed me to look for service dogs because it was something that wasn’t the norm. And I hadn’t really been involved with dogs as a child or anything like that.

– Can we meet Axel?

– Absolutely, Axel, you awake buddy? Come here, come on, come on. That’s a good boy. Come here, come here, say hi.

– Hi Axel.

– I know I woke you up. And so he’s a 13 year old German shepherd. He actually just had his birthday on April 9th. His birthday is on the anniversary of the first time that I was wounded, so it was kind of meant to be.

– Let us know what exactly can a dog like Axel do to help you out.

– He did a whole bunch of different things for me. His big thing was nightmare interruption. He definitely helped me mitigate my medications with just being able to cope with day to day life.

– And so when did you turn your life around and your story? When did you start to feel some upward momentum?

– I would say probably six months after Axel. We went on a trip to Breckenridge, Colorado and I hadn’t been anywhere for almost two and a half years. I hadn’t even left my basement to get a damn Coke from 7-Eleven. So, going 1500 miles across the country, we just kinda looked at each other in the hotel room and I knew we were gonna be okay.

– And you were in your basement due to PTSD, just not wanting to be out around anyone?

– So it was more of sitting in a dark space, all alone, with my own thoughts, numbing it with alcohol, pills, and just trying to, I guess, get up the next morning and kind of I’ll be real, I was hoping that I didn’t get up the next morning.

– So glad you did and now you’ve made it your life’s calling to impact people in the ways that Axel and dogs have impacted so many Veterans out there. You helped to found Leashes of Valor. You’ve placed 21 dogs. It costs about $40,000 to get one of these dogs service ready, talk to us about Leashes of Valor.

– We provide service dogs at no cost whatsoever to our wounded and disabled vets. It’s free of charge. They come here to our farm or to our partnership out on the east coast, where they learn how to utilize the dog and go through that major transition of utilizing a dog for 24 hours a day.

– What’s the demand relative to what you’re able to provide?

– So the big thing for us is we wanna ensure that the Veteran wants to succeed and wants to move forward and that they’re in the right head space and want to recover. Some guys and girls just don’t wanna recover. And I can tell you that we take in probably 200 applications in a year, and I only give out about eight to 16 a year. The need is absolutely there.

– And what do you want people to know about those that laid it all on the line for us?

– You can be mad about everything in the political climate and be mad at whoever sent us over there, but just know that we did it without any questions and that we’d do it again.

– Retired Marine Captain and Axel, come on up, Axel, thank you both for your service and for agreeing to be our NFM Salute for the month of May, 2022. God bless you.

– Thank you very much, Greg. We very much appreciate it and NFM we can’t thank you all enough and we look forward to all the awesomeness that this is gonna help us provide.

– It’s our pleasure. I’m Greg Sher from NFMTV, we’ll see you again next time.