Lon Hodge won the Eagle Rare Life Award in 2018. He is a medically retired, 100% disabled veteran and Army military enlisted officer who has beaten the survival odds ... not only during his military career, but also throughout his life. He now uses his life to be of service to others.During junior high school, Lon's father was critically wounded in Vietnam and later died from his wounds. Lon's mother subsequently fell into a deep depression and, as a result, Lon spent two years at Father Flanagan's Boys Town in Nebraska. Lon then returned to Pueblo, Colorado, to graduate from high school.While in the service (1973-1976 and 1977-1981), his Medical Corp duties entailed the primary responsibility for physically and psychologically wounded soldiers. He was also an instructor at the Academy of Health Sciences and a Field Placement Supervisor for medical personnel who were counseling and treating wounded personnel at Brooke Army Medical Center. Lon's injuries were received stateside and, in 1981, he received an honorable discharge. Lon’s academic career at Baylor, North Carolina and Maryland was quite a success. He was a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Literature, and he became a nationally recognized poet with the publication of his book of poetry entitled "Fishing For The Moon.” However, as the accolades poured in, the physical injuries and PTSD soon took control of his life. Severe panic attacks, agoraphobia, elevated heart rate, night terrors, and excessive prescription drug treatment provided by the VA resulted in years of stress and anxiety. Along came a Labradoodle named Gander! Gander, who became Lon’s service dog, is a survivor himself. Gander was saved from a Colorado high kill shelter and was sent to a prison program in Canon City, Colorado, for obedience training. He was then rescued and trained by Freedom Service Dogs in Englewood, Colorado. It was there, in September 2012, that Lon and Gander became a team. They have not spent one day apart since then and Lon credits Gander with literally saving his life.
This inseparable team is on a mission. Together, they have traveled the United States for Operation Fetch to encourage education and awareness for PTSD, veteran suicide, service dogs, and persons with visible and invisible disabilities.
Lon also promotes “Planned Acts of Community Kindness” or PACKS. One such PACK raised funds to provide adaptive equipment for a four-year-old boy who is paralyzed. This specialized harness allows him to walk assisted by an adult for the first time in his life! In April 2016, another PACK provided an expense paid trip for a Wisconsin man, who is in poor health, to finally say goodbye to his father who had passed away. Because the father had served in the Army, Lon arranged a special honor guard and flag ceremony at Tacoma National Cemetery which gave the son closure while paying his respects.
Lon tirelessly reflects the epitome of a hero and a survivor. He continues to give back to his community and to all veterans.
Lon's newest mission is to travel the continental USA to support the awareness that 22 veterans per day that take their lives. He supports this by helping other charities with service dogs being matched to veterans. He tours a cemetery every day playing Taps on his bugle, cleaning up headstones of fallen veterans, and placing a fresh american flag at their marker.
Lon and Gander where the recent recipients of the American Humane Service Dog of the Year Award.