GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — This is a story of man and man’s best friend — one best told through pictures from the battlefield.
That’s where Marine Cpl. Jeff DeYoung and his bomb-sniffing, life-saving partner Cena became best pals.
The pair teamed up to seek out explosives in Afghanistan back in 2009.
“He cleared the roads, he found the IEDs, he cleared routes and everything and kept us safe,” DeYoung said of Cena. “During firefights, I would have to lay on top of him over myself because he’s a more valuable asset than I was.”
DeYoung and Cena were split up in 2010. It wasn’t until four years later when they finally saw each other again. Their reunion made national headlines, and they have been inseparable ever since.
But like so many of those who serve, DeYoung, a Jenison graduate, struggled to find his footing after returning home from war. Employers were hesitant to allow him to bring to Cena to work.
Not Charlesbrook Protection Services. The small security company has allowed DeYoung the chance to work alongside Cena yet again.
“When he got out of the military, he really didn’t feel like he fit in anywhere,” Charlesbrook CEO Ryan Woodford said. “He went from a few companies to a few companies, and was just overwhelmingly grateful that we were going to give him what he needed — which was very minimal stuff.”
DeYoung, who has PTSD, now shares his story to advocate for other veterans. He has become a military ambassador for the American Humane Association.
He speaks at events to advocate for veterans rights — especially for veterans in the workplace — and for those who have special needs, like a service dog.
“It’s not so much as hiring a person with a pet. You’re just hiring a stronger team member,” DeYoung said.
As for Cena, he’s now nine years old. Save for a limp, he gets around all right. How many years he has left is anyone’s guess — but you can be sure they will be spent alongside his best friend.
“We’ve had our bumps and bruises and wild rides. We’ve shared fighting holes in places that people can’t spell. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And I wouldn’t trade our days for anything,” DeYoung said.
For more information about groups that connect hero dogs with their handlers: