Iraqi war veteran gets new "tailman"

Nick Bennett says Festus has helped him gain a sense of independence.
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An Iraqi War veteran in Franklin is looking forward to Father's Day for the first time in ten years. It's all because he has a new tail man who has restored his self-esteem and his family - just in time for this Father's Day.

"Ready to go see the kids," Nick Bennett asks as he leaves his rural Franklin home.

For Bennett, this Father's Day will be the best one in ten years - ever since Veterans Day 2004 when a rocket struck the vehicle he was standing by in Iraq.

"Rockets whistle. Mortars thump," he explained to me as we sat in his den. The walls were covered with decorations including a Purple Heart.

For the next ten years he would endure 26 surgeries to his leg, his arm and his hand.

"I lived a life of isolation until my wife got home," he said almost apologetically.

Then there was the Post Traumatic Stress. A firecracker outside distracts him.

"Did you hear that?" he said.

That is when Festus springs into action.

"This is my first Father's Day in ten years where it will be a Father's Day where I don't feel a failure as a dad. I don't feel like I can't protect my kids," he added with a sense of accomplishment.

That is because Festus can help him with his shoes. He can brace him when he needs it. The three-year-old Red Tail Lab can serve as his tail man.

This war-hardened Marine found Festus through the Project 2 Heal program in North Carolina. He was trained at the Women's Prison in Indiana.

"I saw the things the dog could do for him. The things we take for granted that can change his life because of what happened to him," Charlie Petrizzo observed as he watched the two interact in Bennett's living room.

Now the two are anxious to get on with life. One has put in his service. The other is more than happy to do his. The two have become one family, which will help make this Father's Day the best one in ten years.