James and Vienna' Story

Posted on: in [ Placed Dogs ]

James' Story

James and his service dog Vienna were officially placed together in early March 2019. James and Vienna were recently featured on Chive Charities:

Check out James' original story below and leave a comment congratulating him and his new partner, Vienna, on their success!

Hi my names is James Jensen. I grew up in Allison, IA. In high school I transferred to Walnut Ridge Baptist Academy in Waterloo. Immediately after graduating high school in 2006, I made the decision to join the military and landed on the Air Force. I signed on as an Airborne Cryptologic Linguist.

I had the pleasure of spending the first 2.5+ years in various technical schools around the country. After completing basic training, I attended airborne school in San Antonio, TX. From there, I went on to language school at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA where I studied Arabic for 63 weeks. After completing language school, I moved back to Texas for Intel training in San Angelo. Finally, after earning my intelligence badge I had one more step to complete my technical training. I, then, went to Spokane, WA where I went through a vigorous survival training school known as SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape). I finished up there and moved to my permanent duty station at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, NE.

Shortly after arriving at Offutt, it came to my attention that the Air Force was looking to start a new program known as Project Liberty and was looking for volunteers to kick off the project. With little to no knowledge of what exactly the project was I, along with 5 of my peers, volunteered for this new project. After waiting a few months, I was off to a small Air Guard base in Meridian, MS to take on once again another vigorous training school to learn a completely different job all together. By the end of 2009 I was finally trained up in this new career field and was immediately sent off to Afghanistan for my first deployment. Over the next three years I completed 3 tours in Afghanistan totaling just shy of two years in theater.

With each completion of each deployment, I was finding myself diving deeper and deeper into a dark hole I didn’t understand. I became more and more reliant on alcohol to cope with the things I had experienced and to help me sleep without nightmares. After my second deployment, I developed an addiction to gambling to go along with my alcohol dependency, and after my third deployment, I had completely lost control. I was drinking and gambling so frequently that it began consuming my life. By the middle of 2013, I had spiraled so far out of control and lost everything to the alcohol and gambling that after a binge and losing every last dime I had I decided I no longer wanted to live. I decided that I wanted to die and began driving my car to a bridge where I could end it all. End the memories that haunted me, the nightmares that kept me awake at night, the pain that had seemed to consume my every being.

Thankfully, a very good friend reached out to me that night and talked me down from making a horrible decision. That next day, I went into work and admitted my struggle to my leadership. I instantly found myself in therapy. I was deemed unfit for duty and sent to work with our base honor guard. I spent the next year working with the honor guard and enjoyed every minute of it. For once in a long while things seemed to be looking up.

In 2014, the military began cutbacks on manning. When the news came that I was being cut do to my inability to participate in my actual career field, I was devastated. By the end of June I was out the door and by September I was officially separated from the Air Force with two years left on my current contract.

I felt lost without the military and struggled to find my place in this world. For the next 3+ years I bounced around from job to job and location to location finally ending up back at home in the Waterloo area working for a long time family friend. All the while, I was finding myself spiraling out of control again. I never felt right. Finally, in February of 2018 I lost my job with the company. I began drinking more and more each day. In April, I found out I was being evicted from my apartment as I couldn’t make rent anymore. On April 7, after cleaning out my apartment, I decided I had nothing left to live for. I choked down several pills and attempted to take my life. Thankfully, a friend of the family came and got me that night and took me to Covenant hospital where I recovered over night. When I came to in the morning, I made the decision that I needed to seek help. I spent some time in a psych ward in Iowa City and was then transferred to residential treatment at the VA in St. Cloud, MN. While there, it was brought to my attention that a service dog might just be the thing that I need. When I got home from treatment, I immediately got in contact with Retrieving Freedom and began working with a service dog. It has been such a blessing and quite uplifting to work with these animals. I look forward to being matched with a dog and finding a companion that can help me manage my symptoms and face the struggles I find in every day living.

Thanks for reading my story. I hope that you will find it in your heart to support myself and Retrieving Freedom so that others may have the opportunity to seek the help that they need through these wonderful animals.


  • Donald Torgerson | Jul 19th 2018 @ 7:02 PM

    Wow James, your story is genuine and touched my heart.

  • Rob Lawson | Jul 19th 2018 @ 7:27 PM

    James, I truly hope being matched with a service dog will finally bring about the change and help that I know you are working to acquire. It was a pleasure to serve with you. Regardless of how it ended at Offutt due to the Quality Force Review Boards, I truly valued your contributions to our office before you moved on to helping the Honor Guard. It has been a very long time since we last engaged, and I hope this message finds you well.

  • Kenny Downing | Jul 19th 2018 @ 7:41 PM

    Powerful story and very proud to call you my friend. I am thankful you are getting your story out! Hope to chat and/or see you soon.

  • Mrs. Speed | Jul 19th 2018 @ 9:06 PM

    We love you James! Nothing can change that! Proverbs 3:5-6

  • KRISTIN HANZLIK | Jul 19th 2018 @ 10:14 PM

    I commend you for being so brave to share your story and thank you for serving our country!

  • The Russell Family, Tony, Tammy, & kids | Aug 9th 2018 @ 10:06 AM

    James, Thank you for your service and your sacrifice. Never quit. There are way more people than you may think who support you and want you to succeed. We are passionate about our Veterans and we are passionate about Retreiving Freedom. Gete squared away and remain there. Thanks again for your service. Carry-on.

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