On Aug. 19, 2006, the life of Army Capt. James Barclay IV changed forever.
He was in the lead vehicle of a convoy in a remote area of Afghanistan when a roadside bomb tore through his vehicle. Barclay survived, but suffered burns over 40 percent of his body.
Barclay's life changed again June 24, but this time for the better.
Marc Illman, owner of The Pet Resort at Greensprings here, reunited Barclay with Bryant, a chocolate Labrador retriever specially trained for hunting. Illman spent the last three months training the dog while Barclay underwent treatment for his injuries.
Bryant and Barclay's story began shortly after Barclay started his recovery at the Wounded Warrior Center at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. A long-time outdoorsman, Barclay was eager to return to hunting, his favorite pastime. He adopted Bryant in August, but soon found that his injuries prevented him from properly caring for the pooch.
"I had him for about three weeks," he said. "Due to the surgeries, I wasn't going to able to do what I wanted to do with him, and spend as much time as I should with him, so I sent him to my dad's house."
In March, Barclay's father, Army Brig. Gen. James Barclay III, former director of U.S. Joint Forces Command's Joint Center for Operational Analysis, brought Bryant and another pet to Illman for boarding. When Illman found out about the situation, he volunteered to help train Bryant free of charge.
"I'm thrilled to do this, and I hope the dog works out for him and his family," Illman said. "These young men in the armed services really don't have a choice. They're where they're told to go, when they're told to go there, and no matter what your political ideals are, they're committed to serve the armed services, and it's important they know that when they come home, as opposed to other wars we've had, that they have some support."
Bryant's training began with basic obedience training and socialization. Illman then moved on to more hunting and outdoor-specific training such as running through deep undergrowth and proper reaction to gunfire. He specifically trained the pup to hunt both water fowl and upland birds such as quail and pheasant. Illman said Bryant took easily to the training.
"What makes him really special is that, sometimes you have a dog that's great around people [and] becomes a great house dog. We call them 'couch potatoes,' Illman said. "But he also has the ability to switch that off and become a great field-trial hunting dog."
The elder Barclay, who recently left JFCom to become commanding general at Fort Rucker, Ala., said he's grateful not only for Illman's help, but also for everyone who reaches out to wounded servicemembers in need.
"It's great to have Americans who support our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and he is prime example of that kind of support that is willing to give and do things for these kids," the general said. "We've got great Americans out there that show their support in different ways for our kids. I think it's wonderful, and folks like that need recognition."
As Barclay reunited with his old friend, the two recognized each other right away and were inseparable from the moment they were reunited.
"It really means a lot to see that people here support me and the soldiers out here," Barclay said. "Hopefully, [Bryant will] be my right-hand man."
In addition to Bryant, Barclay received a free one-year supply of dog food and a weekend hunting trip at a resort in Montana.
With Bryant in tow, Barclay will head back to San Antonio to continue his recovery. He said he hopes to be better in time for the bird-hunting season in the fall.
"Once I get back, I'll start working with him right away to try and create that bond you need in a hunting dog," Barclay said.
(Army Spc. Andrew Orillion serves in the U.S. Joint Forces Command Public Affairs Office.)
Editor's Note: To find out about more individuals, groups and organizations that are helping support the troops, visit www.AmericaSupportsYou.mil. America Supports You directly connects military members to the support of the America people and offers a tool to the general public in their quest to find meaningful ways to support the military community.