Couldn’t Stop Running

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

5 min read

Couldn't Stop Running

“Have you seen Forrest Gump?” asked 17-year U.S Marine Corps veteran Keith Hudson.

For Keith, returning to civilian life was not easy.

“It felt like I was running and running, and I couldn’t stop.”


14 jobs. Three divorces. Financial turmoil.

“I felt like Forrest. My facial hair grew like his did, and I had this big afro — and I’m looking crazy because I don’t know what I’m doing with myself,” he said.

It took its toll. 

Couldn't Stop Running

Spurred By Spite

Keith enlisted in 1988 at age 18, right out of high school, to spite his mother.

“That was the only reason,” he shook he head. “To make my mom mad.”

He had four full-ride scholarship offers, but he chose the Marines. He grew up quickly in Chicago, a child of financially troubled divorced parents, and he was eager to leave.

“I had a lot of people telling me I couldn’t do it,” Keith remembers. Of course, he had to prove them wrong.

He led infantry, communication, recruiting, and logistic units, deploying multiple times within his 17 years of service. He learned that when you’re told to do something, you go do it.

Instant obedience to orders.

That didn’t quite prepare him for life after his unexpected injury and medical discharge.

An attack during deployment left Keith hurt — and angry. He was medically retired in 2006, three years too early for a pension and full benefits.

Resentment and bitterness were only the beginning.


It Was Tearing Me Apart

“I got to a point where I withdrew from everyone, including friends and family,” Keith said.

Before he knew it, he’d flown through 14 jobs, three marriages, and a load of financial burden. He couldn’t help but wonder, “What’s wrong with everyone? Why does everyone have to make things so difficult?”

“People would piss me off regularly. And quickly. Whether I’m in line at Walmart or in traffic. Whether it’s my son’s mother or my own siblings, people would get me furious,” he said. “To the point where my blood pressure was out of control and my anxiety was through the roof.”

But he hid it well.

“Inside, it was tearing me apart,” he whispered. “I was on a constant merry-go round that wouldn’t stop.”

One day, a buddy from officer school called him up and hit him hard with a reality check.

“Man, have you looked at yourself?” he questioned Keith. “It’s not everybody else all the time. At some point, it’s you.”

That flipped a switch in Keith. 

He wanted off the merry-go round.

From seeing K9s For Warriors on the local news, to submitting his application and finally meeting his Service Dog took roughly two years.

Couldn't Stop Running

I Stopped Running

It was all worth it the moment he laid eyes on Cessna, a sweetheart yellow Labrador retriever with deep, loving brown eyes.

“Cessna allowed me to stop running,” he breathed out in relief.

Keith can finally relax with his Service Dog by his side.

With Cessna, I can appreciate each day. I can appreciate the life that I’m living. She means unconditional acceptance to me — my flaws, my quirks.

Cessna is more than a Service Dog. She’s family.

Like Father Like Son

Keith, a single father to a 10-year-old child special needs child, said that through everything — his PTSD, his anger, his anxiety — his son came first.

He wanted him to have a good life.

He has a condition called achondroplasia, and he’s a ball of fire. He’s kept me going. But it’s different than with Cessna.

His son was initially less than enthused at the news of Cessna’s arrival.

“When I told him I was going to get a dog, he cried,” Keith chuckled lovingly.

His son was terrified. But every day during Keith’s training on K9s’ campus, he would Facetime his son, warming him up to their new family member. By the time the duo returned home, his son hesitantly accepted Cessna’s curious, cold sniffing snout when she introduced herself.

Now, they’re sitting side-by-side-by-side at their first football game as a family. At the 2022 Gator Bowl, Keith was honored on the field in front of thousands as the local hometown hero. A year ago, he never even dreamed of entering a stadium.

For Keith, K9s For Warriors meant more than a Service Dog. It meant choosing himself.

For years, I have been a giver, giver, giver.

He flies under the radar, wearing plain clothes, driving a Toyota Hybrid, all of his attention focused on his son.

“A couple weeks ago, I did something for myself that I didn’t think I would have ever done before,” he lightly laughed. “I bought myself a new car.”

He couldn’t contain his grin.

“But not just any car,” he said. “A Mercedes Benz.”

The moment was surreal for Keith.

“I just sat in it. In that moment, I wasn’t worried or thinking about anyone else,” he said. “It was somewhat selfish, I suppose.”

A far cry from the 18-year-old boy who enlisted purely to spite his mother and prove everyone wrong. This decision was made for no one else but him.

It was time for me to do something for me. I’m the same guy — nothing about showing off. I’m still wearing my crocs.

For some it may seem like just a dog or just a car, but to Keith it means so much more. It’s living.

“When they say it’s life changing, it really is,” he said. “It’s unlike anything else.”


Meet Cessna

Keith & Cessna’s Graduation Date

Cessna’s Sponsor
Jeff Martin Auctioneers

Cessna’s Name
Cessna was named after the Martin family’s beloved Great Dane who was by their side day & night.

Cessna’s Trainers
Cessna was trained by Luis Nieves & Chelsea Allen.

Our program serves all-era veterans with a diagnosis of service-connected PTSD, TBI & MST. We provide highly-trained Service Dogs at zero cost to all-eras of veterans.

If you have questions about the application process, please give us a call at 904-686-1956 9am-5pm ET, Monday through Friday.


We provide Service Dogs at zero cost to veterans. But the training process is costly — roughly $25,000. Help fund the training and pairing of a lifesaving Service Dog like Cessna  for a veteran like Keith.

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