AUSTIN -- Five years after sharing a battlefield, Marine Sgt. Chris Jaramillo and his dog Shooter have been reunited.
"A rush of excitement. Here he is- this is real," said Jaramillo while standing with Shooter.
Jaramillo and Shooter were paired together in Afghanistan. While there, Jaramillo, an engineer, and Shooter, who sniffed out IEDs, were practically inseparable.
"[Shooter] gave me that break of the monotony of all the confusion of a combat zone. Let me relax and be a human for a little bit, and let the dog be a pet," said Jaramillo.
He proudly wears a shirt honoring his sacrifice as a Purple Heart recipient. He suffered a Grade 3 concussion and perforated eardrums when an IED exploded in September 2010. A friend was killed, one of four comrades he lost overseas. Two months later he left Afghanistan while Shooter stayed behind.
"I pretty much said my goodbye on the plane ride back. And I just enjoyed a little bit of my time petting him, and having him around. Because I knew I was going to have to pass him off," Jaramillo said, as he described the final time he saw Shooter.
In total, he spent 7 months in Iraq and 7 months in Afghanistan. Even after officially leaving the Marines in February 2011, he still held out hope he'd be able to take Shooter home one day. After completing five years of service, Shooter retired this year.
"In all the confusion, I just kind of lost hope in finding him," said Jaramillo.
A few weeks ago, Jaramillo received a call from K2, a defense contracting company. He was told to meet Shooter in North Carolina, and get to take him home for good.
"I wanted to jump in the truck and go to North Carolina that day," Jaramillo excitedly recalled. The pair are now back in Austin, adjusting to everyday life stateside. He described his transition since returning from war.
"It's been a rocky one. It's tough to find those people that are willing to go that extra mile for a veteran. So I've worked with the VA, and worked to improve myself," said Jaramillo, who has plans to return to school. His hope is to study social psychology at Baylor and work with veterans.
Jaramillo said he's instantly felt better since taking home Shooter less than a week ago.
"To calm me to know that I have him with me. And I really have nothing, nothing to fear. I'm never alone [with Shooter]," Jaramillo said. Part of Jaramillo's renewed energy comes from watching out for Shooter.
"It's a distraction. So I know that I can't get caught up in any kind of anxiety because I have to keep my composure, because it will also trigger his anxiety," said Jaramillo, who has two other dogs at home. "We'll work together to mellow each other out."
After initially coming to Austin, Jaramillo noticed Shooter was still a bit wired, and noted he had dilated eyes. But every day has been a bit easier, and he's now enjoying time off a leash, playing fetch in the park just like any other dog.
"He's a part of me, not just my family, but me. Wherever I go, he's going to go," he said.
Jaramillo works with an Austin-based organization called Tattered Flag meant at helping veterans adjust to life after returning from overseas.