Editor’s note: This story originally ran in June.
It was noon when Arnold Rise walked into his workplace and heard the news flash.
A B-52G Bomber had exploded at the Grand Forks Air Force Base in Grand Forks, N.D.
His daughter, Airman First Class Robin Rise, was stationed at that base.
“I called my wife and I told her to see how our daughter was,” the Fremont man remembered.
His wife, Audrey, called back and said some men were at Robin’s residence.
And Rise knew that within 45 minutes Offutt Air Force Base would have a chaplain pay them a visit.
Just 20 years old, Robin Rise and her sergeant were going into the front wheel well of a B-52G Bomber during a routine ground maintenance exercise.
Suddenly, the aircraft exploded, killing Robin and four other service members.
It was Jan. 23, 1983.
Thirty-five years later, Robin is being remembered in a unique way.
Her cousin’s daughter, Eliza Jamison of Woodbridge, Virginia, trained a Semper K-9 Assistance Dog — named Robin in honor of the late airman.
Semper K-9s are specially trained to help bring calm to a service member with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and to perform tasks such as opening a door, turning on a light or pushing an elevator button.
Jamison began working with the Chesapeake Bay retriever-border collie mix in April.
“She’s such a sweetheart,” Jamison said of the dog. “She’s so smart. She catches on so quickly and she loves people.”
Rise was happy when he learned Semper K-9 wanted to name one of its service dogs in his daughter’s honor, saying it’s a good way to remember her.
One of Robin’s brothers, Rich Rise of Fremont, is pleased, too.
“That’s very cool,” Rich said. “She is being remembered and the service dog is going to help somebody else a lot.”
Robin Rise grew up with two brothers, Al and Rich, and a sister, Lynette. Several of their uncles had served in the military. Her dad served in the Air National Guard. Al served in the U.S. Marines.
Growing up, Robin enjoyed softball and being in the Girl Scouts. She sewed, made crafts, painted ceramics and baby sat.
“She was the person who—when we went to (family) reunions—we all wanted to be around,” said her cousin Jennifer Miller Jamison of Woodbridge. “She had a fun personality. She loved being around people and she was so happy.”
The 1980 Fremont High School graduate wanted to serve her country and Robin’s dad said she joined the Air Force to see the world.
After her training, she was stationed in Grand Forks. She served two years before her death.
It was snowing on the day of her funeral. She was buried in Memorial Cemetery in Fremont and her dad still remembers the Honor Guard out in the snow.
“They were like snowmen when it was all over,” he said.
Decades later Jennifer Jamison’s daughter, Eliza, was about 14 years old when she began looking for an animal shelter where she could be a volunteer.
“Every year when I went to apply, they would bump up the age restriction. I was pretty disappointed so I started looking for around for nonprofits to volunteer for instead,” she said.
She found Semper K-9 on Facebook and met with Christopher Baity, a veteran Marine Corps dog trainer and kennel master whose experience includes with three combat deployments. Baity’s website also states that he studied in Israel under the Israeli Defense Force Oketz Dog program.
Baity’s deployments in the Marine Corps took him to Iraq and Afghanistan. His website states that when he returned from deployments, Baity faced bouts of PTSD and drug and alcohol use.
He and his wife, Amanda, founded Semper K9 in 2014.
“I wanted to take my skills the Marine Corps taught me and my post-deployment challenges to assist other veterans to overcome their own difficulties,” Baity said.
Baity told the Tribune that he uses temperament, aptitude and cognitive testing to determine the best dogs for the program.
The dogs can be trained to perform a host of tasks that can include finding keys, retrieving medicine or a cell phone, picking up a dropped wallet, helping the veteran stand up — or getting help.
Jamison cites the story of a Semper K-9 dog named Lizzy. When the veteran fell, hit her head and couldn’t get up, she told Lizzy to get the cell phone.
The dog brought the phone to the veteran, who was able to call 911.
Without the dog, that veteran — who lived alone — wouldn’t have been able to get help.
Dogs also are trained in what’s called psychiatric alert.
For instance, if a veteran gets nervous, the dog might put its head in the person’s lap or lick his hand, Jamison said.
Robin is Jamison’s fourth dog to train. She gets one of the specially selected puppies when it is 8 to 12 weeks old.
Jamison then begins with basic training commands like “sit” and “stay.” The puppy is about 6 months old when she starts more of the service dog training which involves psychiatric alert or tasks that help veterans such as picking up a cane.
Robin has learned to open doors.
“She lets herself out sometimes,” Jamison said, laughing.
When the pups are around 8 to 9 months, they work with different volunteers and veterans.
Every dog must be at least a year old before graduating.
“If they’re ready to graduate, we start working them with different veterans,” Jamison said, “because every veteran has a different lifestyle and we want to make sure that the dog is the best fit for them.
“Our program is all about setting the best team up.”
When a veteran finds a dog he or she really wants to work with full time and the trainer can see a team starting to grow, the vet and dog can work more together.
“If it’s the best fit, then they’ll start working on graduating them as a team,” she said.
They make sure the family is OK with the dog, too, and knows some of the commands. The entire family can benefit from the dog.
“If the veteran is happier, the family’s happier,” Jamison said.
Baity added that the dogs must meet and exceed the national standards created by Semper K-9 and the Association for Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans.
“We—along with about eight different organizations — originally founded an association of nonprofits to provide free service dogs to military veterans affected by Post Traumatic Stress, military sexual trauma and traumatic brain injury,” he said.
Jamison and her mom nominated Robin Rise to be honored by having a dog named for her.
The teen enjoys working with Robin’s namesake.
So will it be hard to say goodbye to her canine trainee?
“I think she will be harder to give away, but she’s going to help someone so much,” Eliza Jamison said. “She’s such a goofy dog. She’s going to put a smile on someone’s face every day.”
Jamison’s last trainee, a dog named Yates, went to live with a veteran, who hadn’t been out alone in public with his 4-year-old son. Since getting Yates, the veteran and his son have gone out multiple times.
“These dogs change the veterans’ lives so much and when you see that bond grow and you see how much the dog’s going to help their life, you realize you don’t need the dog as much as they do; so I don’t have a problem with it,” Jamison said. “You get a little sad here and there when you see something that reminds you of your dog. My last dog loved whipped cream so anytime I see whipped cream, I get a little sad, but I just talked with the veteran’s wife the other day and she is so grateful for him (the dog) and said that he’s helped their family so much.”
Jamison, who is a high school senior, said she’d one day like to train a seeing-eye dog.
Baity commended Jamison for her work, saying how mature she is for her age.
“She’s very diligent and a very good worker,” he added.
In a phone conversation with the Tribune, Jamison spoke in an upbeat tone.
Perhaps a little bit like Robin Rise would have done years ago.
“She was the kind of person who left you better than when you first started talking to her,” Jennifer Jamison said of her cousin. “She would always make sure she said something nice about you or said something nice to you — so you just wanted to be around her more.”