Cara Loken seeks to connect veterans with canines after watching her own son’s experiences.
PLATTVILLE, ALABAMA – Cara Loken hasn’t only known the separation of deployment from her view as a military spouse, the National Guard wife of 16 years watched as her oldest son deployed to combat. Seeing his own experiences play out in her life brought her to a current mission: healing veterans through canine connections.
I connected with Cara after she was named the 2016 Armed Forces Insurance National Guard Spouse of the Year ®. To my surprise, even though her husband is part of the Nebraska National Guard, they are living a bit of the active duty side of the house as they are temporarily stationed in Alabama for school. She says it’s been eye-opening to meet so many new people and learn their stories. The short-term living arrangements haven’t however deterred her from digging in to help whomever she can.
“My husband may be Air National Guard, but this is not a part-time job,” she said. “Helping Guard families is full-time responsibility and opportunity.”
Seeing the World through Her Son’s Eyes
Cara’s son served in the United States Army with the 82nd Airborne. He is the inspiration for the work she is doing today, which includes efforts to expand programs involving veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and dogs. “If getting my son a service dog is going to help make his days easier, I’m going to do it.”
She plans to tap into local rescue shelters to match up veterans and dogs with a goal of making them both happy. Taking notes from programs like Battle Buddy, Cara hopes to make the program available to those in the flyover states. “We’re often overlooked here in the Midwest, and veterans can’t always afford to travel for two months to train with the dogs,” she said. “I’d really like to unite the community resources and start a program that can help the veterans in Nebraska and the surrounding states be matched up with their new best friend.”
A Family that Serves Together
Cara’s vow to the military may only be rivaled by her commitment to her family. In 2011 and 2012, she waited anxiously at home while both her son and her husband deployed The family’s heritage to serve has been instilled in her youngest son as well as he waits his turn to put on the uniform. And while her life is full of the people she loves, to include a granddaughter that brings her joy, she takes her role in the bigger National Guard family as a privilege.
“It sounds cliché, but we really are one big happy family in the National Guard,” Cara says. “We welcome new people with open arms, and we cling to each other in times of need.”
That National Guard welcome evolved into an event she designed to help people transition into her husband’s maintenance unit and this summer will grow to encompass everyone else involved with the base. “We don’t want anyone to feel scared or not included,” she says. “This includes brand new spouses, those transferring from active duty, and parents of our troops.” As a spouse and mother, she feels she can communicate with both groups well, and often shares her experiences.
“I’m here, to serve the military community as long as they need me,” Cara added. “You have served to protect me and I’m here to serve you and your families. You can confide in me, day or night.”
We Met Cara, We Love Cara – How Can You Vote for Cara?
Cara Loken is one of six branch representatives vying for an opportunity to spend the next year representing the larger military spouse community. Voting for the overall Military Spouse of the Year takes place online March 3rd. Over the next several days, the Homefront United Network will profile each of the winners to give you, our audience, a chance to weigh-in on who you want to be the face of the community.
To cast your vote, visit: http://msoy.militaryspouse.com/
The 2016 Armed Force Insurance Military Spouse of the Year ® winner will be announced on May 5th at the award ceremony in Washington, D.C.