JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- An Air Force wounded warrior has a new wingman helping him cope with his physical and mental pain, thanks to the "Train A Dog - Save A Warrior" program.
Staff Sgt. Andrew Goligowski struggles with post-traumatic stress and the pain caused by sarcoidosis, a disease with no cure that causes inflammation in the lymph nodes, organs, joints, and other tissues. For Goligowski, the disease strikes his joints, at times making it painful to even bend his arms, and causes masses in his lungs making it difficult to breathe.
Goligowski was serving as a military training instructor with the 321st Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, when his symptoms began. Once a military working dog handler with four combat deployments under his belt, Goligowski was not only in pain, but he became withdrawn and depressed, and needed help.
"I didn't want to do anything," said Goligowski. "I was grumpy and moody. All I could think about was that I was never going to be able to do my job in the Air Force again; then I'd think about not having a job at all, and having no health insurance."
The negative thoughts wouldn't go away. Then he met Mali, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois, through the TADSAW program.
"She's a reason for me to get out of bed in the morning," said Goligowski. "The walls don't get small when I'm with her. And because she's a working dog, there's a special bond. She's my battle buddy."
Goligowski's improvement has become evident to others as well.
"I had not known Andrew very long before he was teamed up with Mali, but I did notice that he was more cheerful and had a more positive outlook on his current situation," said Charles O'Connor, Goligowski's nonmedical care manager at the Air Force Personnel Center Warrior and Family Operations Center here.
Mali's life has also been a struggle. After becoming certified as a service dog, the TADSAW program placed her with a former Air Force working dog handler who was a Vietnam veteran living in California. Sadly, the veteran died of a heart attack six months after getting Mali. His family couldn't keep Mali so she was returned to the program. She spent the next several months in a kennel not working.
During that time, the program director, Bart Sherwood, spoke with Goligowski about helping train the rescue dogs Sherwood fosters on his 80-acre ranch near San Antonio. That's where Goligowski met Mali, and their bond was born.
Although she had already been certified as a service dog based on Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, Mali needed to be recertified after being "unemployed" for so long.
Working with Goligowski, Mali passed her recertification with flying colors.
"There is a rapport between us," said Goligowski, who has been with Mali for four months. "We're a pack, and I'm the pack leader. I just feel better around her. She lowers my blood pressure and gets me outside walking."
There are other members of the pack at home. Married five years, Goligowski and his wife, Whitney, have a 3-year-old son, Hayden. "My wife is the pack leader of me," admits Goligowski.
How does his wife feel about the new female in her husband's life?
"I noticed his attitude change right away," said Whitney. "He was like a kid in a candy store or a kid on Christmas Day. Something had lifted. Mali knows -- she senses -- when Andrew's feeling down and is there to help."
Mali accompanies Goligowski everywhere, even to work at Lackland where Goligowski is the charge of quarters for the 321st TRS while he awaits the results of the Medical Evaluation Board.
He urges other wounded warriors to consider getting a service dog to help with the tough times. Those who already have a family dog can pursue getting it certified as a service dog.
"If you already have a pet and it can pass the test, it can be certified as your battle buddy," said Goligowski.
When not on the job, Mali enjoys being a family pet, playing with toys and playing catch.
"I love her," Whitney added. "She has such a personality."
"Before being teamed up with Mali, Andrew was not one to venture out into social events or activities," said O'Connor. "He explained to me how much of a difference Mali has made not only in his life, but on his family. He now goes everywhere and has taken his family on a couple of vacations."
Goligowski needed help, and Mali needed a job. In the end, they both got what they needed.