Interview with Sergeant Sam Cila

by Robert Stretch on September 23, 2010

Today on VA Benefit Blog, we are posting our first interview. Today, we are honored to interview Sergeant Sam Cila of the United States Army. Sergeant Cila represents Canine Companions for Independence, an organization that trains service dogs for adults and children alike.

Q. Could you start out just by telling us a little about your background in the service?

A. I joined the New York National Guard right after 9/11. My unit the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment out of New York, deployed in October 2004. My year long tour was just about over when I was injured by an IED blast on July 4, 2005. Our patrol was just outside of the Green Zone in Baghdad when we spotted a suspicious object. I was outside my vehicle with my Captain when the object exploded. My life was saved by the quick responses of my medic and unit. Since my injury I have received over 40 surgeries to help repair some of the damage. The blast blew out my left side taking with it my brachial artery and almost all of my left bicep and tricep. Thanks again to my medic and his quick work with a tourniquet. Because of the amount of nerve loss to my upper arm my hand is now considered a secondary injury. I spent three years fighting a never ending battle. I took every opportunity available to me to try and fight the inevitable. Amputation.

Q. Which VA Benefits have you utilized post departure?

A. I utilize all my va benefits, the medical and physical therapy benefits have been vital in my post injury rehab as well as maintaining my current well being.

Q. Could you detail any positive or negative experiences with the VA?

A. All of my VA experiences have been positive. The doctors, nurses and all the staff are professional and determined to help vets get the best care possible.

Q. Which non-profit organization do you represent today?

A. Canine Companions for Independence (CCI).

Q. Could you tell our readers a little more about this program?

CCI is a national non-profit organizations that breeds, raises and trains assistance dogs for adults and children with disabilities, other than blindness.  They provide highly trained assistance dogs at no cost to the individual.  The  dogs know 45-50 task oriented commands that include retrieving fallen objects, opening doors and turning lights on and off.  Recently, CCI has undertaken a Wounded Veteran Initiative.

Q. How has Gillian changed your life for the better?

A. Gillian has changed so many aspects of my life. She has been a powerful weapon in helping me live a more independent lifestyle. Things can be challenging with one hand. Gillian not only acts as my left amputated hand to open doors, turn on lights, carry that one extra bag I can’t manage – she is my battle buddy! She comforts me in stressful situations. Gillian, as my teammate, holds me accountable like I expect any teammate to do. I don’t have a choice to be depressed or inactive. To keep her healthy and happy I need to be active and responsible for her well being.

Q. How could our readers start the process of applying for a service dog?

A. By visiting the website  www.cci.org, or they can call their regional training center (found on the website).  I received Gillian from the Northeast Regional Training Center in Medford, NY which serves 13 states from Maine to Virginia.  Jessica Reiss is the Program Applicant Coordinator for the Northeast Region.  She can be reached by calling (631) 561-0212.

Q. Do you have any closing comments?

A. Gillian and I are teammates both working on the same missions – helping me live a productive, positive,active life and in the big picture, help other vets live that same way and let them know that no one will be left behind.

Thank you Sergeant Cila. Readers, please post any questions or comments regarding Sergeant Cila or our new interview series.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ann Moxley September 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm

In 2004 I was diagnosed with a rare disease, HSP. I applied for a Service Dog in 2009…and I have been waiting…and waiting….(I’m not very good at waiting). This interview with Sergeant Cila reminded me once again, how a Service Dog changes lives. Thank you so much for your words. I know many people that have had their lives changed dramatically by being able to share it with a Service Dog. No one is helped more…though…than the Service Men and Women and I am so heartened to read how Gillian is your new partner in life. Thank you for sharing. Everything I’ve read or heard about CCI is positive and supportive.

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kathy ynclan September 24, 2010 at 3:34 am

Sargeant,
Your hand looks awesome!! I am a puppyraiser for CCI in Northern CA and I have raised 5 dogs. My son was born limb deficient and is now 23. The myoelectric he received years ago did not have individual finger movement. Does yours? Did the VA fit you with your prosthetic?
Sorry to inundate you with questions, but I am so excited to see that the technology for the upper body has improved!

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Donna Cange September 27, 2010 at 1:25 am

Hello Sam,
You look great!! We just went on this site today to look at the CCI to consider being volunteers to help with this group. Ross, Dave and I were pleased to see your story today. We know little Sam is very proud and we are happy to hear about your good news. Good luck with your races! Seems like success runs in the family-how about those Seahawks!! Hope to see you soon.

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johnbrowne September 27, 2010 at 9:42 pm

?hay bro whats up long time i gess i ll see u oct 16th do u still have those conie corsos ?

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