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Giles veteran searches for a best friend

Posted on Monday, November 12, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Two years from now, Ron, an almost 6-year-old golden labrador, will retire as a guide dog to Terry Staggs, a Giles County disabled veteran. When that day comes, Staggs will need another seeing eye/wheelchair-trained canine. Training will take two years; but guide dogs do not come cheap.

Friends of Staggs will host a fund-raiser Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Pulaski Recreation Center from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Several gospel and secular groups will perform throughout the day and several Pulaski and North Alabama merchants has donated to a silent auction. Money donations also will be accepted. Anyone interested in donating goods or services for the silent auction should call (931) 363-0279 or (931) 424-3162. Santa will make a special appearance and pictures will be made for a cost.

Event organizers hope to raise the $3,500 cost of a guide dog that will be trained by Southeastern Guide Dogs of Palmetto, Fla. Staggs will request another golden labrador. Ron will live out his retirement at Staggs’ home in Old Lynnville.

Born Oct. 27, 1954, in Texas, Staggs was in third grade, wearing camouflage clothing most of the time, when he answered the question “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up” with “I want to be in the Army and be a 1st Sergeant.” The youngest of several brothers, Staggs was 16 years old when he stole an older brother’s birth certificate to enlist in the Army on March 21, 1972. He began his 19-years, six-hours and 23-days military career in the infantry but was sent to Airborne School, where he was selected to become a Green Beret. Staggs served tours in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

In 1990, leading his men in Kuwait, Staggs went down in a “flash, bang” when a grenade exploded in front of him. He lost his left eye in that combat and is legally blind in the right eye. He was medi-vac’ed to Germany and was flown to the United States after he stabilized.

In his left eye alone, he has had 22 surgeries. Undergoing one of those surgeries, a shell fragment was found in his head that he had carried since 1973, when he was fighting for Hill 103.

Staggs was medically discharged from the Army and is 100 percent disabled. He is confined to a wheelchair.

“I love the U.S. and what it stands for,” he said of the reason he enlisted and for choosing the military as a career. “I would still be in if it hadn’t been for me getting blown up.

“Hold on a minute,” Staggs said as he maneuvers the motorized wheelchair out of the room. “This is my pride and joy.”

He holds up the actual Green Beret he wore while on active duty.

Staggs has experienced a broken neck, back as well as ankles and wrists plus arthritis as well as being a victim of Agent Orange and PTSD. But God wasn’t through with him, reasoned the surviving veteran. Staggs has since gone to college and holds a M.A. degree in business, a B.A. degree in human services and rehabilitation and a license to counsel young people and in ministries. He currently is working on earning a license to become a minister.

Staggs and his wife, Sun Cha (who everyone calls Sunshine) met in Korea, where she worked as a clerk typist for the Korean military. Sunshine is a third degree Black Belt in Taekwondo. The couple will celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary in December. Since March 2009, Ron has been a loyal guide dog to Staggs.

“Ron didn’t really do well with people, but there was an instant bonding with him and me,” Staggs said, recalling their first meeting.

The relationship may be cliché, but Staggs and Ron really are best friends. Ron has proven his loyalty by protecting Staggs, especially on one trip to Staggs’ mailbox. A car came too fast and too close. Ron lunged at Staggs’ wheelchair, sending it into the ditch out of harm’s way.

“Ron will work two more years, and that’s how long it takes to train another guide dog that will be cross-trained for people in wheelchair,” Staggs said. “We’ll need to look now for a new guide dog.”