Camp Battle Dawgs Veteran Program Opens In Talkeetna


Many people ask what they can do to give back to our warriors returning from combat. Everyone, including the warrior, is concerned about the high rate of suicides in America, 20 to 40 a day, and half that number from our aging Vietnam veterans. For Deborah Cox Wood PhD, ND and Rick Casillo, Iditarod musher and Jennifer Casillo, helicopter pilot lt. colonel, Alaska Air National Guard, all three of Talkeetna, Alaska, it was a no-brainer to join forces. 

Dr. Deb is a naturopathic physician, helicopter pilot, best-selling author, and has been treating veterans and first responders in Renova, her Norfolk, Virginia clinic for the past four years. Rick and Jen have been running camps for veterans through Battle Dawgs Racing along with the grueling Iditarod for the past four years. Each had the missing link for the other’s mission of a one-stop-shop healing camp/clinic. Combined, their efforts have assisted more than 150 veterans in making a better transition to life back home. 

Now the three are well on their way to help ten times that number, with the opening of Camp Battle Dawgs in Talkeetna last month. Dr. Deb has given the use of her 640 acres with a 3200 square foot lodge and bunk house to Battle Dawgs. Fundraising for this project is in full swing since the cost to the veterans is zero dollars. To “give back” to veterans go to (non-profit) and donate to this project.

"The true battle for a veteran begins when they get home," says Jennifer Casillo. “Battle Dawgs mission is helping our veterans, one step at a time.” 

The vision of Battle Dawgs is as big as Alaska: To empower our nation’s heroes through therapeutic healing modalities and exciting wilderness experiences by harnessing the natural splendor of Alaska's landscape and the healing power of sled and service dogs. "You may arrive at camp as a wounded warrior,” says Jessy Lakin, combat veteran and Battle Dawgs Director of Operations. “By the time camp is over, you will be a Battle Dawg!"

In 2004, Rick entered his first Iditarod and went on to compete in the 2006, ’07, ’08, '14, '15 and '16 Iditarods. Working with veterans was something he has always wanted to do. In 2012, Jennifer and Rick started Battle Dawgs and never looked back. Along with his Iditarod dogs, Battle Dawgs now raises and trains puppies to become service dogs. 

“Battle Dawgs is the first stage for our veteran’s home-front mission: healing. We don’t step away from our mission, until the mission is complete. We ask one favor of our veterans: hang in there with us. Live another day and let’s do this together,” said Dr. Deb. She is the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and loves hanging out with warriors. She says, "Warriors are kindred spirits who won’t give up. They are well trained in the survival skills America needs now. We are lost without them.”


Dr. Deb is the author of the best-selling book, The Legend of River Mahay, with a second edition coming out spring 2017. Among other titles is Settling with Power, 3-Steps to Mastering Life on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Coming soon: Warrior’s Guide to Life: Purpose and Meaning After Combat.  

Deborah Cox Wood, PhD, ND, has a BS in criminology and certificates in coaching, leadership, nutrition, exercise, brain health and emotional wellness. She was named Professional Business Woman of the Year twice, and recognized in 2013 by Worldwide Who’s Who for showing dedication, leadership, and excellence in alternative and holistic medicine.