When most people hear there might be a bomb nearby, they try to get far away as fast as possible. For U.S. Army specialist Brandon Sanford and his bomb-sniffer dog Rexo, it was all in a day’s work.

“I enlisted in the Army in 2000 and served in military police. In 2006 I transferred to El Paso, Texas for training in the bomb-detection dog handler school. My dog Rexo, and I deployed to Iraq in 2008. I was nervous on the first patrol missions, as our duty was to find explosives designed to kill American soldiers,” said Sanford.

His worst nightmare came true in April of 2008 when a roadside bomb blasted the vehicle in which Sanford and Rexo were traveling.

“I suffered traumatic brain injury, hip and other wounds. Rexo was also injured, but after his recovery, he was reassigned to another handler and scheduled for re-deployment,” Sanford said. “I never thought I’d see him again,” he added.

Following Sanford’s own hospitalization, a few things improved his quality of life. First, his wife discovered that the Army was considering Rexo for discharge, and she knew her husband was deeply worried about his dog. She discretely inquired about the Army’s plans for Rexo, and once confirmation was received that the dog was being retired from the military, she applied for his release to their family.

“When I learned I was getting Rexo back I was surprised and excited. Within 90 days we were driving to El Paso to pick him up so he could live the rest of his life in comfort with our family. Due to his age and war injury-related physical limitations, he doesn’t do much,” Sanford said. “But my wife and son hide treats throughout the house for him to detect, which helps him feel reward for his work in finding them.”

Due to his own injuries, however, Sanford has endured seizures, problems with balance, fine motor skills and more. A simple task like buttoning a shirt can be daunting. It was while receiving care for his brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center in Loma Linda, California that Sanford met Richard Burke.

Burke, a Craft Care Specialist (CCS) for national non-profit organization Help Hospitalized Veterans (HHV), introduced Sanford to the healing power of arts & crafts.

“I like to work on a variety of crafts, but my favorites are the model cars,” Sanford said. “HHV has some awesome muscle cars. Working with the small pieces has helped me with my hand coordination. I also have short-term memory problems associated with my TBI, so working on the kits helps train my focus and concentration skills. The kits also helped me learn how to cope with frustrations and reduce my anxiety,” added Sanford. “Having the craft kits helps me a lot, especially at times when I get discouraged so it feels great to finish a kit. There are a lot of things I can’t do right now, but I’ve been working on a huge Harley Davidson motorcycle model which would have cost me a fortune. I’m extremely grateful to the HHV donors who make these kits possible. They’re the folks who really make a difference in the lives of us vets.”

Since 1971, HHV has donated over 27 million arts & crafts kits to VA and military hospitals worldwide. HHV also provides dozens of other Craft Care Specialists who are stationed at VA, military and state veterans homes worldwide. For more information visit hhv.org or call (888) 567-VETS.



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