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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and their work might be very obvious, or often go unnoticed.

One education program in Wayne Township is full of heroes disguised as everyday citizens.

The title of the program HOSTS stands for “Helping One Student to Succeed.”

And the program wouldn’t function without volunteers.

Whether it’s listening to books being read aloud or teaching new vocabulary on flashcards, each week for eight years Ed Heckman has taken time to make a difference in the lives of children.

“They really grow in this activity. They love to come here, one of them even said it today, she said I love HOSTS,” Heckman said.

Ed is a HOSTS mentor, a reading program for Wayne Township 2nd and 3rd graders.

“These are the students who need just a little extra help, who don’t qualify for another program,” HOSTS lead teacher Tammy Butts said.

Volunteer mentors spend one hour each week working with two students.

They work with the same students the entire school year.

“They have one student for the first 30 minutes and then a second student for the next 30 minutes,” Butts said.

One-on-one reading help is something many students never experience.

“That comes out as you have discussions with them,” Heckman said, “If you ask them if they read before they go to bed, a lot of them say no, or they don’t read during the summer, those kind of things.”

In one year of HOSTS the kids improve an average of 4 to 5 reading levels.

That’s just one stat Butts said shows the value of the program.

“They’ve said you know before I went into HOSTS program, I hated to read, they said now I love to read,” she said.

The kids get to pick which book they read, which adds to the fun of the experience, and the money to buy the books has been donated.

Supplies are paid for by the Wayne Township Education Foundation.

But Tammy said it’s the 1000 volunteers like Ed who make this dream a reality.

“Our mentors are the heroes in this equation, without our mentors we would not have the HOSTS program,” she said.

“I don’t know about a hero. I think I’m a good volunteer,” Heckman said, “Heroes tend to save people from things, or I suppose we rescued them from some part of life. If they didn’t have this, where would they be later? And so from that aspect I’d say we all are heroes.”

After eight years of mentoring Ed has watched young kids grow into high schoolers who run for student council, lead school clubs, and become volunteers themselves.

“This whole thing of growth and leadership and self confidence it is very evident as you look at it over the long haul,” he said.

That’s the magic of the program, connecting strangers across generations for a short time to make a positive impact well into the future.

“You can see the growth, you can see the gains, and you know you made a difference in the child’s life,” Butts said.

If you would like details on becoming a HOSTS mentor click here.

FISHERS, Ind (WISH) – This Veteran’s Day, the city of Fishers and some local businesses are going beyond simply saying “thank you.”

The city has a new Hometown Heroes program, where military families will get their lawns raked and driveways plowed.  It’s available to families for free.

“I think it is a lot,” Fishers resident Larry Pontius said. “Raking leaves and shoveling snow and stuff — its harder than it sounds.”

“I think it’s a wonderful idea, really,” Fishers resident Khadijate Ishola-Gbenla said. “It shows that they truly care about the service of the soldiers overseas.”

It’s not the city helping. They’ve asked local businesses to help them out, and some say they’re ready for the challenge.

One of those businesses is I Cut Grass LLC. Owner Joshua Russ has had family members deployed and knows clearing leaves and snow can make a big difference.

“They need to have as little stress in their lives as possible, and this type of work can do a lot to help alleviate unnecessary burdens from them,” Russ said.

City officials say the idea sparked when one of its employees was recently notified he’ll be sent overseas.  Mayor Scott Fadness decided to not only help city employees’ families, but others in the community as well.

As long as they’re deployed, the city and local businesses will help. It’s a program that excites both owners to get involved and neighbors who are thankful for the vets’ service.

“I’m happy to see our community and the local government help out the members of the community,” Russ said.

“It just shows that humanitarianism is still alive,” Ishola-Gbenla said. “Just the fact that we still care about people. So that’s very important in a community such as Fishers.”

So far city officials say two families have signed up.  All people have to do is fill out an online form, and they can be eligible for the program.

To learn more about the program, click here.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The unemployment rate for the nearly 22 million veterans in our country has been on the decline.

But in a recent survey by Prudential that looked into veterans’ employment challenges, vets named “finding a job” as the greatest challenge in transitioning from military to civilian life.

Even though the military has exit programs to help prepare the men and women for re-entering civilian life, it’s often not enough.

In the survey, two thirds of veterans said they experienced a “difficult” time when they left the military.

There are local resources to help.

Roger Duety is preparing an order for a customer at his new job making trophies at Bardach Awards, but he doesn’t have a background in this business.

The Navy veteran served four years as an aviation mechanic, which he discovered is a job-search benefit.

“Being a veteran, that kind of helped because Ryan, who hires people here, has hired a few veterans,” Duety said.

But the path to his first full-time job since leaving the service hasn’t been easy.

He turned to employment specialists at Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation (HVAF).

“I went to a couple job fairs with Robin and then she came across a flyer for Bardach Awards, and I just sent them my resume,” he said.

Duety’s success story is a point of pride for the non profit.

They work every day to help vets get back on their feet.

“This year, from January to September, we helped 248 veterans in some way. One hundred seventy four of those veterans were able to find permanent employment,” HVAF VP of Marketing Debra Des Vignes said.

Des Vignes said vets face unique challenges when job hunting.

“They feel anxious; they feel nervous about going back in the workforce,” she said. “There is a gap on their resume and they don’t know how to explain that gap.”

Sometimes that gap is more than veterans think they can overcome.

“PTSD from Desert Storm for me was pretty traumatic,” Army veteran Roy Elmore said, “It cost me my marriage. I went to alcohol and drugs and eventually, when I was up here in Indianapolis, I was living under a bridge just last year.”

With help, Elmore was able to get into transitional housing and a work placement program at the VA hospital.

“[It’s a] temporary job, but it’s a great job. I love doing what I’m doing down there,” he said.

Like Duety, Elmore worked with employment specialists and used resources like the computer lab.

“I’m going through that process right now with resume building and interview process, things like that,” Elmore said.

He said his future looks bright for the first time since leaving the Army in 2001. It’s a prospect he never thought possible during his darkest days.

“You asked me this a year ago and it wouldn’t have even been on my mind,” he said.

His advice for other veterans is to just ask for help.

“It starts with the vets wanting to get help and wanting to get a job,” he said.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Downtown Indianapolis was filled with red, white and blue on Tuesday in honor of Americas veterans.

The Veterans Day Parade was one of many events that took place across central Indiana.

The Veterans Day council said they have organized similar events for more than 50 years.

As thousands of Hoosiers lined the streets to offer gratitude, 24-Hour News 8 spoke with Vietnam War veteran, John Dyar, who said he appreciated the support.

He said even though he is a veteran he still makes sure to express his gratitude when he sees someone in uniform.

“Because I know what it was like, when I came home from Vietnam,” Dyar said.

There were more than 80 groups that took part in the parade.

Before the parade began, the Veterans Day Memorial Service was also held to honor those who have served in the armed forces.

Veterans were honored on the steps of the Indiana War Memorial. Hundreds of people were in attendance and many of them were veterans.

Some attendees clutched American flags and others wore military attire.

The key note speaker was the Mayor of Indianapolis, Greg Ballard. Ballard is a retired Marine who pointed out this will be his final Veterans Day as the mayor.

He took time to point out what his administration has done for veterans during his time in office.

“We (are) also one of the few, extremely few cities, in the entire nation, that can lay claim to the fact that (with) one phone call, the homeless veteran can have a roof over their head that night and food in their belly, and all of the services at their disposal,” Ballard said.

Ballard also spoke about some of his most memorable Veterans Day moments during his time as the Mayor of Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Tillman H. Harpole Post #249 is located just off Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on the city’s west side.

Back in 1936, a group of black veterans of World War I created post #249. Over the course of two years the post purchased land in the 2500 block of Northwestern Avenue which is now Martin Luther King Jr. Street. The post now has more than 75 years of service.

Over the years some of the once pristine homes in the area have turned into dilapidated housing. At one point, some of those homes sat on the grounds of the post.

“We let the houses sit; they were deteriorated. We had crack addicts doing what crack addicts do,” said veteran Steve Barnett, a member of the post.

Then, one day someone had an idea. The thought would transform not only the post, but the community surrounding the building. The idea came in the form of knocking down abandoned homes and then turning it into green space. After demolition, the veterans laid down grass seed and decided to turn the open space into a park.

Already, there are a number of suggestions for events at the park.

“I would like to see weddings here – I’m a wedding person – picnics out here. I can see volleyball out here, and horse shoes,” said Barnett.

Over the years, the post has created community-based programs. Some of those events include Jazz in the Park, Blues in the Hood and Commander’s Ball. There are thoughts that maybe the new park could host Jazz in the Park.

In addition to the park, several new buildings, office space and new business have popped up in the area. Some believe the post helped spearhead some of the new development in the neighborhood because of the addition of the park.

One of the goals of the park is to engage residents and help others feel part of the community they live in.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – As we honor our fallen heroes, 24-Hour News 8 also wants to honor their mothers. Gold Star Mothers is an organization made up of mothers who have lost a child in service to our country.

Becky Johnson is a Gold Star mother living in Indianapolis.

Almost every inch of Johnson’s home is decorated with her son’s accomplishments. Some of them big, like his medals and certificates from his time in the Army, but to Johnson, no accomplishment is small. She still displays her son’s trophies from elementary academic and music competitions. The mementos each represent a memory. She treasures all the memories of her son – even the painful ones.

“When he came to me and told me he had joined the Army, I immediately thought, ‘Oh my Gosh. What have you done?’ We’re in a war,’” said Johnson.

Her son, Gary Lee Woods Junior enlisted in the Army in 2003. Johnson said he had been laid off from two jobs, and believed it was the best way to eventually get to college and study music.

“At some point in time, he had changed from being my little boy…to one heck of a man,” said Johnson.

It wasn’t long, before Woods was in Iraq. Johnson remembers the sleepless nights full of worry.

“Every time the phone rang, I jumped…you know?,” said Johnson.

A few months later, Woods was back in the United States. Johnson was there to welcome him home. But all too soon, his second deployment rolled around.

“He had already returned from one [deployment], and he had promised he’d return from this one…you as a mother — you get a little confidence after that first one,” said Johnson.

Woods kept that promise and returned home safely. Johnson refused to see her son off on his first two deployments. She’d visit him the week before, and go back home a few days before Woods went overseas. She couldn’t bring herself to watch him leave.

“I found that it was easier for me to walk away from him, you know — I thought ‘I don’t think I could see him standing there, and watch him walk away’,” said Johnson.

They’d keep in touch with quick calls or video messages. Johnson showed us a video Woods sent her in December of 2008.

“I just wanted to wish all my family a Merry Christmas and happy holidays, I hope to see you all soon,” said Woods.

Johnson still doesn’t know why, but she was there to say goodbye on Woods’ third deployment.

“I thought that was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. I had a lump in my throat, I couldn’t swallow, I couldn’t breathe. Only to find out months later that, that was not the hardest thing I’d ever go through,” said Johnson.

Someone snapped a photo of their tender goodbye. She has hundreds of photos of her son, but that picture is now her most precious.

(Provided Photo: Becky Johnson)

“That’s the picture. That is the last time I got to touch my son,” said Johnson.

A suicide bomber killed Woods and four other soldiers on April 10, 2009. Now, she clings to the missed calls that turned out to be a blessing. Johnson pieced together bits of the messages her son left on her answering machine while he was overseas. A stuffed bear now plays the recording.

“Hey Mom, just thought I’d leave you a little message so you can hear my voice while I’m gone. I love and miss you,” said Woods in the recording.

After his death, letters poured in from generals, politicians and strangers. Johnson displays them in frames or in a photo album. She also keeps in touch with Woods’ friends, and the families of the other soldiers who died with him.

“It’s a family that you never want to join, but you’re so happy to have them around,” said Johnson.

Mostly, Johnson leans on other mothers who have earned the gold star.

“To know that you’re in in a room full of people that know exactly how you feel, and have been where you’ve been.. there’s something to say about that….It’s like a lifeline,” said Johnson.

Johnson said the Gold Star Mothers organization has been a support system since her son’s death.

“There are literally so many of us, that we say we’re sisters,” said Johnson.

The Gold Star Mothers in Indianapolis host regular meetings, and talk about ways they can help other military families. They’re now planning a Gold Star memorial for downtown Indianapolis.

Johnson is taking on a special project of her own. She’s renovating her son’s old house in Colorado, to rent to veterans. She said she plans to use the money she makes to start a scholarship in her son’s name.

“He didn’t get to go to college, because he couldn’t…his jobs laid him off and he couldn’t save up enough money to go to college. So I want to help another kid that’s in his same position and can’t afford to go to school and feels like they have to join the military just to get the education,” said Johnson, “I want to give them the chance to get the education first, and then if they still want to join the military — great. But get the education first.”

Johnson has one request for everyone reading or watching, on behalf of all Gold Star Mothers.

She asked that everyone talk about her son, and the other military members who have died in service. Johnson said the Gold Star mothers will never forget their children, but they need to know everyone else will also remember their children lived.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A central Indiana program is the only one of its kind in the state offering a unique resource for veterans returning home with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or traumatic brain injuries.

Since the Humane Society of Hamilton County launched “Pets Healing Vets” in 2012, shelter workers have helped carefully pair more than two dozen Indiana veterans with adoptable dogs or cats.

The adoptions are free to qualifying veterans with medical proof of diagnosis. The program includes post-adoption support financially including immunizations and food for the animal if required, shelter director Rebecca Stevens said.

“From the shelter dog perspective, many of them feel forgotten and under appreciated and broken and a lot of these veterans feel the same way and so by bringing them together, there’s this innate understanding that’s unspoken. That’s just not something (a veteran) can get anywhere else,” Stevens said.

To Marine Corporal Justin Growden, an 8-year old pit bull named Princess became not only a companion but a life-changer.

The former combat engineer was referred to Pets Healing Vets after returning from a nine month deployment in Afghanistan with issues of depression and anxiety related to PTSD and a TBI.

Growden adopted Princess who held the Hamilton County center’s record for time lived in the shelter.

“It gives you a new sense of responsibility which you kind of miss being out of the military. It adds a new aspect to your life and really helps out I can’t really explain it. It’s a lot. Helps a lot,” Growden said. “My symptoms have gotten better since I’ve had Princess. It comes and goes and they say (symptoms will persist) probably your whole life. With treatment and therapy and everything else, you just keep working through it; don’t give up.”

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – On Halloween Day, 178 veterans headed to Washington, D.C. on an all-expenses-paid trip to our nation’s capital to see their memorials.

It’s become an urgent mission for those behind the Indy Honor Flight: to give veterans a chance to see their memorials, and receive a proper ‘thank you’ before it’s too late.

The average age of a World War II veteran is now 90 years old. Grant Thompson, Indy Honor Flight Founder and Chairman, says their mission now is to locate these veterans and help them get to D.C.

“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed, ever been a part of,” said Thompson. “This is a generation who has given us so much.”

The 14th and 15th flights each brought 89 veterans to D.C., along with guardians for each of the veterans, and other volunteers. About two thirds of the veterans served during World War II, and the others served during the Korean War. One veteran served in Vietnam.

The veterans leave early in the morning, and arrive in Washington D.C. to a grand welcome. These flights were welcomed by D.C. alumni clubs from Purdue and other Indiana colleges. Also waiting at the gate, some travelers who simply heard this honor flight was coming in.

“There was an announcement that this gate was bringing in all these wonderful people,” explained Gale Nemec from Washington, D.C. “I’m so privileged to be able to thank them for everything they did.”

“It brought tears to my eyes to have all these people come to the airport, and want to shake your hand,” said veteran Ken Pope of Bloomington. “It was unexpected.”

The veterans then, along with countless volunteers, head to the World War II Memorial, Vietnam and Korean War Veteran Memorials, Arlington National Cemetery among others.

It’s a day to honor their service and sacrifice, to remember those who aren’t there with them and to say the words they may not have heard when they came back from their service: “Thank you.”

It’s also a day of many emotions.

Amidst the cheers and “thank you’s,” to see their memorials, it brings everything full circle, for some vets.

Everett Latham served in the army in Europe during World War II.

“I helped liberate a concentration camp. I got two purple hearts and a bronze star,” Latham said, sitting near the World War II Memorial. “I’m not sorry I went at all, I’m not sorry I carry these wounds with me. I’m thankful I was able to do it, for my country.”

“You can’t anticipate what this means to guys like me,” said Latham. “Some of those people gave everything, and I was lucky enough to get back.”

Every single veteran has so many stories to tell. Their stories are moving. Their stories are beyond comprehension for many of us today. Their inner spirit is strong beyond measure.

Among the veterans on the flight as well, USS Indianapolis survivor 88-year-old Richard Thelen, who came down from Lansing, Michigan, for the flight.

“70 years ago, the ship went down. I was 18 when it went down,” Thelen said. “My dad actually brought me home, because he took me to the railroad station after boot camp. He shook my hand real firmly, and said ‘Dick I want you to come home.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry about it Dad; the war is winding down in Europe.’ This is April of ’45. So the war is almost over. But every time I was ready to give up, there was my dad’s face. So he brought me home.”

“I go around and talk to school kids. My favorite slogan is, ‘Never give up. If I gave up years ago, I’d never been here,” Thelen added.

Those who are not here with them today are not forgotten. Name, after name is written at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Vietnam veteran Wayne Smith has volunteered with the honor flight about three years.

“I didn’t come here [to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial], until two years ago,” said Smith. “It takes that amount of time to put yourself in the right frame of mind, so you can handle the emotions when you come here. You just kind of stand and look at it, and you just think about to your time in Vietnam and shake your head. Too many boys died here, and this is just a symbol of it.”

He says he volunteers, to be able to say thank you to other veterans, and hear their stories.

More names and faces are honored at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

“It’s beautiful. They did a magnificent job,” said one Korean War veteran.

At Arlington National Cemetery, the veterans watch the Changing of the Guard ritual at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

All those names, those faces, those lost: never forgotten.

On the way home, the veterans receive yet another special surprise.

The volunteers surprise them with “mail call:” dozens of pieces of mail, saying “thank you,” from their loved ones.

Once they arrive back in Plainfield, the veterans once again, receive a giant surprise: a welcome home and a giant “thank you,” from hundreds of people waiting for them.

“This is beyond my imagination,” said one veteran.

“I’m overwhelmed,” added another.

“You changed my life – thank you,” said one cheering woman to a veteran, shaking his hand.

The moments just don’t stop as the veterans enter the gym to cheers and handshakes.

“We love you. We will never forget what you’ve given us. And we are eternally grateful for that,” said Grant Thompson, Indy Honor Flight founder and chairman. Thompson started the Indy Honor Flight hub with the help of many others in 2012.

During each trip, a lot of care and hard work goes into safely transporting these veterans to their memorials: the medics on each bus, and a guardian volunteer for each veteran.

For the first time, one veteran fell on a recent trip while walking to lay the wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.

Days later, the honor flight director made sure he not only still saw all the memorials in D.C., but they arranged a special welcome home at the airport for the B-17 Gunner who was once shot down over Berlin, POW survivor Sgt. 93-year-old Norbert Arvin.

Hundreds turned out at the airport for the special welcome home. Mr. Arvin even got the traditional kiss on the cheek from lipsticked ladies.

Thompson says he always tells the crowds waiting as homecoming starts for the 178 veterans that the last man coming home, deserves just as much applause as the first man. Days after the rest had come home, Mr. Arvin got that same treatment.

Arvin told us he couldn’t believe all these people turned out to thank him for his service, and welcome him safely home.

“This is so awesome. I had no idea in the world, anything like this would ever happen to me,” said Arvin. “I appreciate it. I just love you all. I did what I had to do, that was all [speaking about his service.] Thank you so much.”One veteran’s journey on the Indy Honor Flight

“I would gladly honor my country again”

WWII Army Veteran Harold Harrington says his daughter told him about the trip to Washington, D.C.

“This here is something that everybody should do, at one time in their life. This is so gorgeous,” said Harrington, looking out at the World War Two Memorial. “I’m just so happy I had a chance to come here.”

Harrington says he signed up for the army before he was 18. He says his dad signed for him, and his brothers also signed up. One brother was discharged because of an enlarged heart.

Harold and his brother Raymond spent seven days together before they were sent overseas.

“This is my brother Raymond who got killed in Okinawa just before the war was over,” explained Harrington, showing a picture of the two of them together in uniform.

Harrington says he landed at Omaha Beach, went through France, Germany and Belgium, was a scout, and helped liberate a concentration camp in France. During maneuvers in Germany he says, one of his comrades hit a land mine. He ended up in a coma for two days and had to relearn to walk.

“I’d do it again. I would gladly honor my country again. I sure would,” said Harrington.

The 90-year-old is the eternal optimist: you likely won’t catch him without a smile on his face.

“The flight was just gorgeous. When we got off the airplane, so many people just saying thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve never seen so many people in my life,” said Harrington.

As he walked into a crowded room waiting his return home, he said, “This is fantastic. This is too much.”

“This is the most amazing thing that could ever happen, and I’m so proud of my father, and all of these other veterans, for having served and saved our United States of America. It’s truly an honor to be here today,” said Harold’s daughter, Pam.Grandson and grandfather take Indy Honor Flight trip together

“I wouldn’t take it and change it for the world”

Richard ‘Dick’ Deitchman, a naval aviator in WWII, went on the flight with his grandson, Joe.

Joe is also a veteran, having served in Afghanistan with the US Army.

Dick Deitchman said he would go on the honor flight, if Joe did.

“I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women of this generation,” said Joe. “It’s my honor.”

Dick Deitchman was 18 years old when he enlisted in the Navy.

“This is World War II. Everyone wanted to get in, as quickly as they possibly could,” he said.

It was a family affair: he and his two brothers all served in the navy. After months of training across the country, Deitchman headed to the Philippines. He flew a torpedo bomber.

Deitchman was there for the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He said the Japanese ships came down, and they didn’t know it at first.

“We looked out, and the Japanese ships are coming down behind us. We thought, ‘Holy cow, what do we do?’ Deitchman explained. “We went out and dropped our torpedoes. I got a hit.”

He said later they landed on another ship, and it was there they were hit by a kamikaze.

“A kamikaze hit our ship, and went right into the ready room. About 50 or 60 feet from where I had been sitting,” said Deitchman. That kamikaze killed a hundred people, he said.

On Deitchman’s last mission, he dropped his torpedoes, but later was forced to make an emergency landing in the water. One man with him broke his leg, and they waited in the water on a raft until they were rescued by others. Deitchman came home safely.

70 years later, he sits with his grandson Joe, recalling the stories.

Joe worked on helicopters in Afghanistan.

“I feel like we’re given so much in life, why not give more,” said Joe, of why he got into the military.

He says he and his grandfather have bonded over their shared experience of service: golfing together with his grandpa’s buddies, sharing stories.

“When I got back, I wanted to forget everything about what I had done and seen,” explained Joe Deitchman. “These guys [his grandfather and friends] were constantly, just talk to me about what they do, how they went about things. We share each other’s stories, and each other’s griefs with each other so it’s not as hard on ourselves. We try to use the battle buddy system.”

“I wouldn’t take it and change it for the world,” said Joe, speaking of serving his country.Indy Honor Flight looking for veterans

The Indy Honor Flight is looking for World War II veterans. They say as the veterans get older, their mission becomes more urgent to find these vets and help them see their memorials.Click here to see our story on the history of the Indy Honor Flight.

If you know any veterans who served in World War II, contact the Indy Honor Flight through their website, or call 317-559-1600. You can also sign up on the website to donate or find ways you can help. The Indy Honor Flight is also hosting ‘Dinner with a Hoosier Hero’ on Saturday, Nov. 14.

LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP, Ind. (WISH) – Veterans come in all shapes and sizes and different walks of life. Some of them even walk on four legs.

And Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township is benefiting from the added protection of having a former active-duty military dog in its schools.

“We love Axel. He fits right in to our LT (Lawrence Township) family,” said Tierney Anderson, principal of Sunnyside Elementary School.

Axel is a 5-year-old German shepherd. In 2013 he was serving on the front lines in Afghanistan.

“He served his country nationally and internationally, and now he’s serving his local community through the township school system,” said Matthew Hickey, Axel’s handler and Lawrence Township police officer.

Axel is a trained narcotics detection dog. He did that work on the battlefield, and continues to do it for Lawrence schools.

“It’s just basically another way he can continue his community service,” said Hickey.

Before going into the schools, Axel and Hickey both went through training at AMK9 in Alabama. The organization specializes in repatriating and training K-9s for use in schools and police departments.

But training wasn’t enough. Lawrence needed money. That’s where Texas-based K9s4COPs comes in.

Earlier this year they supplied a grant securing K-9s for police departments and school districts in Indiana, Texas, Tennessee, Nebraska and Georgia.

Axel is the only former military dog serving in Marion County. He’s also the only full-time Lawrence police officer dedicated to the city’s schools.

“What you find is you have this very strong service connection and dedication towards that accomplished goal,” said fellow veteran and IMPD officer Ronald Rehmel.

The accomplished goal he’s talking about is service – whether on the battlefield, in a school, or even at a crime scene.

“We depend on those K-9 units to arrive to help us in a lot of the investigations that we do, but at the school level, what we’re finding with Axel, he is a tremendous asset to this body, this school and the east side community,” said Rehmel.

At Sunnyside, they say the benefit isn’t only being able to enforce the district’s no-drug policy but also being able to interact with an officer – both K-9 and human.

“He’s been a real blessing to me. I interact with the kids that normally I wouldn’t be able to interact with because he’s very approachable to the students and staff and faculty. So it does open a lot of conversations,” said Hickey.

But Axel is one of the lucky ones. Had he served in a previous war, we likely wouldn’t know where he is. Military dogs used to be left behind or euthanized. But before leaving office, President Bill Clinton signed a law allowing the dogs to be adopted and requiring the Department of Defense to keep track of them.

Axel will spend the rest of his professional career in Lawrence. In addition to sniffing out drugs, he can also sniff out humans, so if a child or senior goes missing Axel will be there to help.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WISH) – Matt Igleski enjoys spending time at home watching television and reading when he’s not volunteering in the community. His studio apartment is only 324 square feet, but it means a lot to the Navy veteran who was once homeless.

“It feels more like a home than any place I’ve been since ’03,” he said.

Igleski joined the U.S. Navy in 1985, just before his 18th birthday. Serving in the Armed Forces was a tradition in his family.

“My dad was in the Navy. My mom was in the Navy. I had an uncle in the Navy — three uncles in the Navy, two that were in Toyoko Bay at the surrender of Japan,” Igleski said. “When I was a kid I wore my dad’s jumper, you know, the navy blues and all that stuff.”

After his service stint, Igleski taught English as a second language for 8 and a half years in Korea and Thailand. He returned to the United States in 2011 and said he learned about the impact the economic recession had on those he knew and the rest of the country.

“I was gone so long I didn’t have property here,” he said. “Nobody was in any position to help anybody when I came back, so I went to a shelter for two weeks.”

The veteran, who has a degree in general studies from Indiana University Northwest, said he lived in per diem housing before he was told about the HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) Program.

Lorrie Trowbridge with the Bloomington Housing Authority oversees the VASH Program. She said it’s a responsibility she holds close to her heart.

“My husband, Seth, was stationed at Fort Bragg,” Trowbridge explained. “He retired as a staff sergeant. The Army gave so much to my family.”

Inside Trowbridge’s office is a board hanging on the wall with several military patches.

“It’s always something we talk about. They come in and they look and they say, ‘Wait a minute! You’re a veteran?’ and I have to explain, ‘No, I’m not a veteran. My husband is,'” Trowbridge said. “I think that makes them relax. They become a little bit more comfortable with me and they feel like I can identify with them better.”

Trowbridge said the Bloomington Housing Authority was initially given 25 VASH vouchers in 2009 by HUD. Now, the department has 80 vouchers they are able to give to area veterans. Seventy eight of the vouchers are already filled, and the remaining two are expected to be filled by December 2015.

Trowbridge explained, “A homeless veteran needs to first contact the VA and they have social workers that are assigned to the VASH Program, and they will help determine whether or not they qualify for VASH. In order to qualify for HUD-VASH, you must meet the VA’s definition of veteran, which means you’re eligible for VA health benefits. So once that is done then the VASH social worker helps them complete the application, obtaining the necessary verifications and identifications, then they turn then into the Bloomington Housing Authority. We process the application, bring the client in, we do a briefing, issue them their voucher; they go out and they find where they would like to live in the community, then we conduct and inspection, move the veteran in, and we start housing assistance payments at that time.”

Trowbridge said there’s no time limit for the veteran to be off of the income-based housing program.

She said, “The voucher is funded through HUD. So as long as HUD continues to fund the voucher they can keep the voucher as long as necessary. I think we have two or three gentlemen that have remained on the program for six years.”

The Army wife said she’s seen firsthand how the VASH Program can change a veteran’s life.

“I have one veteran who just recently graduated from Ivy Tech with a degree in HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning). He came from homeless, living in a vehicle, to having a degree and is out seeking a job at this time. That is huge! That is a huge reward, not just on his behalf but for the housing authority to know we changed their situation that much.”

Igleski said he’s grateful for how the program has changed his situation, and volunteering is how he shows his gratitude.

Click here for more information about the HUD-VASH Program.