The Mat-Su Republican Women's Club was so moved by Rick Casillo's presentation on behalf of Battle Dawgs that a donation was collected after the meeting. His message of hope was delivered with humility and grace. Thank you, Rick for making a difference!
Our club members were captivated and inspired by Rick Casillo as our guest speaker! He was articulate and passionate sharing the message of Battle Dawgs. The meeting went longer than usual as there were so many questions from members- Rick answered with ease. We can't wait for his next presentation!
Cheryl Metiva, president
Susitna Rotary Club
Rick Casillo, Brother, I want to take the time to personally thank you for all your caring support and personal commitment, professionalism, hard work and dedication to myself and our Veterans that took place at the recent Battle Dawgs Camp. It was truly an honor to take part and participate in the camp supporting fellow Veterans. In the short time I spent with Battle Dawgs, I was defiantly able to witness a positive mental change in the fellow Veterans who attended and shared their own struggles and experiences and at the same time mentally and physically opened up to each other. I think the Mission Oriented Program of Battle Dawgs is a great methodology to re-engage Veterans during their time in Alaska, it provides a sense of purpose and structure. It was a chance to self reflect on my own personal issues and make an attempt at resetting my own mental clock within and re-evaluate myself. If in anyway I can assist with this awesome program in the future and provide guidance and/or mentorship to any other veterans I would be greatly honored. I wish you and your Pups the Best on your next race. Thanks for showing me which end of the Fly Rod catches fish, I will never forget my Alaskan adventure...Cheers
T. Sowerby, CW4, USSF Ret. (Battle Dawg)
For the last four years, my classroom(s) have followed Rick during the Iditarod sled dog race in
efforts to engage students in reading 1,049 minutes outside of school, “mushing” the same miles
he endures in the great Alaskan wilderness. What is so profound about Rick’s presence in a
classroom happens before he meets the students; his stories of endurance, perseverance, and his
humanitarian mission evokes excitement, and motivates students to achieve something great.
During the 2018 Iditarod, the third graders at Snowshoe Elementary read a total of 44,778
minutes outside of school in three weeks, truly something great. In the class, he is relatable to
the students, inclusive of their knowledge, and captivates them with his voice, humor, and
professionalism. Rick is valued in the classroom because of his innate ability to encourage and
motivate students. In my experience, he strives to transform students’ mindset from fearing the
impossible, to conquering it.
3 rd Grade Teacher
Snowshoe Elementary School, Wasilla AK
I would like to take the time to thank you for all that you did for me at camp. I am very appreciative. I told you I came to camp to look for peace. Instead I found the will and desire to keep fighting.
I've often wondered when looking at veterans that have come back from Vietnam and have lost everything. I've wondered what the difference was between me and them. In my mind it has always been my family. My family has kept me from doing things that would cause me harm. When I began having problems at home with my family, it caused me alot of concern. Feeling like a horrible father was making it easier for me to give up. I understand that it may not be my fault, but as a father it is still hard for me not to wonder if I've done something wrong.
Battle Dawgs gives warriors a family, people who care, and understand what we have been through. Just being around soldiers again. I've come to terms with alot of what I saw in Iraq. I was a soldier doing the right things. I made mistakes, some of which could have cost lives,, but it was with the best of intentions.
Thank you once again for all you did for me personally and for all of us. Please thank Dr. Deb for me. She and you have helped me remember things that I need to remember. Personal feelings that can never be expressed.
Rick Casillo is a dedicated dog musher. He is also an incredible encourager for others no matter what age. His calm and engaging manner in which he addresses our students and staff ensures a fun and educational experience for all. He has been coming to Snowshoe Elementary School for the past 4 years to assist in promoting student achievement through a reading challenge called the Idit-A-Read (in connection with the annual Iditarod Dogsled Race). Our students receive token rewards for their accomplishments throughout the race for reading minutes that match the mileage along the Iditarod trail. When the race is over, Rick comes to our school and shares his experiences as a musher and all the exciting, and sometimes not-so-welcomed, events along the journey. This is a key element in his presentation because he becomes a real person to our students. He shares the challenges and successes he encounters along the trail. He connects these to real-life experiences the students have in their daily lives. He motivates them to strive to be their best, to look for positive solutions, and to be willing to admit and then learn from mistakes. Our students and staff have truly enjoyed his enthusiasm and caring heart for our school.
3rdgrade teacher at Snowshoe Elementary School
Battle Dawgs offered another warrior and myself the amazing opportunity of front row seats to the last great race on earth, the Iditarod. The moment we touched Alaskan soil, we were given a mission. What we didn’t realize is that this mission was designed for us to work off every penny of our plan tickets, but a mission nonetheless. The first mission we had been given since being wounded overseas. We were unaware of what this mission would require from us.
We felt alive again and worth something. We were given a purpose again, even if it was doing Ricks laundry it had a greater purpose. We were to do whatever it took to ensure Rick and the dogs made it to the race and prepared for every aspect it threw at them. Off to anchorage we headed for the official start. Little did we know that we would be kissing hands and shaking babies amongst this controlled chaos they call the official start. Less than 24 hours in Alaska, this mission became the most emotional experience I have been through to date.
In groups of 5, women formed in front of us dawned with lapel pins baring the face of American’s finest. One by one these Angels shared how they lost the loved ones displayed with pride on their chest. Seconds into the first encounter, tears flooded from my eyes as my knees became weak and my stomach flipped upside down. The chaos around me disappeared as I wept. The impact of the mission given to me became clearer. 25 golden angles told me why I was given this mission. These Angles are known as Gold Star spouses. Women who gave their one and only for the needs of this nation never to see or hear from them again. Several had taken their own lives in efforts to quiet the screams of combat. Our mission was clear; we were to stop the 22 veteran suicides every day. It wasn’t about winning a race or even being in Alaska. It was about raising awareness and impacted a magnitude of people along the way.
We travelled all over Alaska following the race and spreading the word with each stop. Being part of a team, led by a civilian who dedicated his life to helping warriors like myself heal and become a part of something more important than their own lives. How could someone who had no experience of combat give his life to change the lives of those who had?
Infiltrating the crowds of Nome, we shared our mission with anyone who would listen. Rushing to the arch every time the alarm blew hoping it was the Battledawgs team rounding the corner. One by one racers finished the race bring tells of miserable conditions and death defining feats. The word was out; the Battle Dawgs team was battling life- threatening illness and large amounts of the suck the trail had thrown their way. Thoughts of throwing in the towel and knowing it would all be over began to fill every ounce of Rick’s being; the same feelings that fill the heads of the veterans pushing them to suicide. The whole team knew that Rick had to embrace the suck risking his life for veterans all over the world. Rick had to finish. He had to embrace the suck. Both Veterans waiting for him to finish personally knew how ending it all seemed so enticing. Finishing the race, Rick inspired Veterans around the world to dig their heels in and continue on.
Personally, I do not have the words to describe the magnitude of this journey. I have been shot, stabbed, and blown up all impacting my life but lacking in comparison with this experience. The BattleDawgs team brought me in and gave me a purpose in life again. They gave me a mission and the strength to complete it. I will forever be in debt to the members of Battle Dawgs, they gave a mother her son back, a sister her brother, and rock foundation that every veteran can lean on. Their impact on one individual changed the lives of so many.
Always remember those deployed, those who never returned home, and those who battle the screams of combat daily.
Thank you for changing my life.
U.S Army Ret.
SGT A. Norris