Service dog helps injured marine navigate life

Published on Monday, 30 September 2013 23:41 - Written by PHIL HICKS phicks@tylerpaper.com

When Wilbert Enriquez left for his sixth deployment in the Middle East he knew when he returned to Houston his wife, Lee Ann, would have him a new puppy.

Little did he know his new friend would become an integral part of his life.

Enriquez, who was in East Texas during the weekend for the Sixth Annual Texas Wounded Warrior Celebration and Pro-Am, was injured by an improvised explosive device in 2009 while Afghanistan. It was the second time the U.S. Marine had been felled by an IED. The first time was 2006 while in Iraq.

“My wife went ahead and purchased (Nala) through a breeder — an English Lab breeder in North Carolina as a gift for me when I got back from deployment,” he said. “Unfortunately on this deployment (his first to Afghanistan, the previous five were in Iraq), I came back three months earlier than originally scheduled because I was wounded.

“A couple of organizations got involved — everyone wanted to give me (a service dog) or take mine for a year to train. … I didn’t want that because I had already got attached to her. I had already fallen in love with her, and I didn’t want to give her up for training.”

In stepped Paws for Vets with a solution.

“(Paws for Vets) came up from Florida and taught me and Nala about becoming a service animal,” said Enriquez, who played the golf course at Willow Brook Country Club on Monday.

Nala, with a beautiful brown coat, is by his side at all times. She was riding in the golf cart with the Enriquez family as they toured the course.

Many injuries to the approximately 30 soldiers here for the weekend are visual, but others it is not. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety disorder.

That is why Nala is so important to Enriquez.

“Nala helps with a number of things,” said Enriquez, a retired staff sergeant. “She opens doors for me, brings me my medicines when I can’t get a hold of them.

“Occasionally, when I fall I can brace on her to stand up. She wakes me up from my nightmares. When I let her go she walks around corners to make sure no one comes up and startles me.”

Both times Enriquez, who was on the USS Enterprise in 2002 near Australia before heading to the Persian when Gulf, was injured he had just completed a mission and was being picked up by motorcade.

For Enriquez, there are good days and bad.

“I am coping — every day is different,” he said. “It is just day-to-day, I have great physicians.”

The golf weekend has been a respite for Enriquez and his fellow heroes.

“These great people out here invite us here for a wonderful weekend,” said Enriquez, who picked up golf in 2006 as part of his therapy after his first Purple Heart. “It breaks us from the monotony of hospital visits. This means the world to us.”

The mission of the Texas Wounded Warrior Foundation (www.txwounded

warrior.com), a 501(c)(3) organization, is to honor and empower wounded warriors and to raise awareness of their continuing post-combat needs. Go towww.txwoundedwarrior.com for more information.