WILDWOOD, N.J. – Benghazi hero Mark "Oz" Geist, who served in the Marine Corps, is making a difference in the lives of American combat veterans by matching them with service canines to assist them in a variety of ways.
And not just that — through his work, Geist is honoring the veterans. Noticing the vets. Respecting them and connecting with them.
It's mission critical. Geist's nonprofit foundation, Shadow Warriors Project, partners with Baden K9 to provide service dogs to combat veterans. Baden K9 is a second-generation company, currently owned by Joshua Perry, a titled dog trainer and military contractor.
The group integrates dogs into law enforcement and military — and does training and breeding as well.
Geist told Fox News Digital this weekend that one of the hardest things for veterans "is the transition coming from the military and moving into the civilian world. Sometimes they need help with that transition, and to be a part of something again."
It's why both groups — Shadow Warriors Project and Baden K9 — were a major presence this past weekend at the Barefoot Music Festival in Wildwood, New Jersey.
They held a K9 donation ceremony for combat veteran Dave Eckerson, who served for 23 years in the Marine Corps.
In so many ways, his story is emblematic of the thousands upon thousands of American veterans who deserve the support and respect for all they've done for our nation.
A common mission
After he was injured in the terror attack in Benghazi, Mark Geist started the Shadow Warriors Project to help private security contractors and their families.
Geist was famously a member of the Annex Security Team that fought in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 and 12, 2012. He told his compelling story as a co-author of the bestselling book, "13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi."
They want to "make 22 zero again" — a reference to the 22 American veterans who die every day by suicide in this country.
Over the years, the Shadow Warrior Project was able to develop a canine program to pair partner service dogs with combat veterans.
Both Mark Geist and Joshua Perry share a common mission. They want to "make 22 zero again" — a reference to the 22 American veterans who die every day by suicide in this country.
"It’s a pandemic that we should really pay more attention to," Geist said this weekend. "Since that war started in 2001, there’s been over 60,000 veterans who have committed suicide."
Perry added, "By making 22 zero again, our statement is, ‘It’s worth one more day.’"
‘Recognizing service and sacrifice’
Shadow Warriors Project (shadowwarriorsproject.org) was chosen as the official charity of the Barefoot Music Festival in order to bring an awareness of veteran suicide to thousands of attendees and concertgoers.
As part of the festival, Shadow Warriors Project honored one of their own veterans and his family with a service dog.
"We are recognizing the service and sacrifice of the veteran and their family through the donation," Perry said.
Donation recipient Dave Eckerson said he feels "blessed" to become a part of the Shadow Warriors Project and Baden K9 family.
Perry noted as well, "It’s also entertaining and an opportunity for the people in the audience to see the ‘make 22 zero’ mission."
Along with the presentation of the service dog, the Baden K9 group also performed a military kinetic canine demonstration.
Donation recipient Dave Eckerson — who after serving in the Marine Corps did contract work — said he feels "blessed" to become a part of Shadow Warriors Project and Baden K9 family.
Both Eckerson and Geist joined the Marine Corps at the same time, in 1984.
‘God works in powerful ways'
Since last year, when he began looking into getting a service dog, "it’s been an incredible journey," Eckerson told Fox News Digital.
"I was selected last year to go to a canine therapy program in Navasota, Texas, with four other combat veterans. Shortly after, Mark called me up and let me know he was going to be awarding me a canine."
"It’s not just an organization, it’s more than that — it’s family."
Eckerson traveled to New Jersey's Barefoot Music Festival from South Carolina with his wife and kids. He noted that this was the first Father’s Day they were all able to spend time together as a family since 2005.
"God works in powerful ways," he said. "I’m truly blessed, humbled and honored to be a part of this. It’s not just an organization, it’s more than that — it’s family."
Geist and Perry also discussed the transition from the military to civilian life and how their programs are designed to help that aspect of life for America's vets.
Perry said, "When they [the military service members] get out, that mission changes. They have to be a father now, they have to be an employee now, they have to refocus."
"The dogs in the program that Baden K9 uses, plus the partnership with Shadow Warriors Project — it's consistent. They’re working dogs. They’re battle dogs and military dogs."
"Everybody in the family [needs to be] a part of the decision to bring another family member into their life."
Recipients of a canine donation are typically referred to Shadow Warriors Project by friends, who can fill out an online application for either receiving a service canine or attending the canine therapy course.
From there, the organization validates the applicant's combat veteran status and then does a home visit.
"When we do a home visit, it’s to see that everybody in the family is a part of the decision to bring another family member into their life," Geist explained.
"The thing we don't want is to insert a dog into a situation where there is already stress and anxiety, and not everybody is on board within the family."
‘We have a gift’
Both Geist and Perry are rooted in their faith; they start each day with a prayer.
"I didn’t find Jesus in a church," Perry revealed. "I found him on my hands and knees on my driveway. I am trying as best as I can to serve him."
"The dog is that sword that we’re not only able to bring back for the veterans — but we bring that sword into the families."
"I know that we have a gift," Perry also acknowledged. "The dog is that sword that we’re not only able to bring back for the veterans — but we bring that sword into the families."
In line with this, Perry commented on the issue of school safety today.
"It's always been a big thing — not just [for] schools, but churches and synagogues," he said. "There are all kinds of needs for families."
He said his company's Family Protection Program "allows us to secure the lives" of families.
He also commented, "You know, the dogs are a deterrent. They can prevent things from happening. They make people think."
"There are human beings out there that, for whatever reason, aren't afraid to come up against other human beings. [But] they don't like the dogs … Dogs are a deterrent. They can detect intent."