Canine trainer Ben Simmons receives Arthur H. and Mary E. Wilson Award for Top Venture Impacting Veterans.
Ben Simmons was a self-professed class clown, more interested in the social aspect of going to school than educational opportunities. Lacking the desire as well as the finances to attend college, he took the advice of his cousin, retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jack Perry, and joined the Air Force, where he learned the skills that would shape his future and inspire him to own a business.
As a working-dog handler in the Air Force, Simmons completed more than 500 hours of technical instruction in canine training. Simmons and his K9 partner specialized in explosive detection and protection patrol work in Kuwait, Greece and the United States. Ultimately, Simmons gained valuable experience and skills that, coupled with his lifelong passion for dogs and their behavior, prompted him to launch a new career upon his return to civilian life.
Armed with ambition and drive, Simmons was accepted to the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV). The program is designed to open business ownership opportunities for post-9/11 veterans with disabilities resulting from service by offering cutting edge experiential training in entrepreneurship and small business management.
Through the Florida State University College of Business, Simmons delved into the intensive program that he says was “life-changing.” The result was OnCommand K9, Simmons’ Georgia-based business where he works to enhance communication between dogs and their owners. He hopes to develop a military program to pair rescue dogs with veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Through this program, Simmons says he will train both the dog and veteran to have the dog certified as a service animal.
“The dogs will assist the veteran daily in achieving small goals that were previously impossible,” said Simmons. “In time, I will establish a non-profit organization and work solely with these veterans and rescue dogs. I hope to pair 36 teams a year, which will greatly improve the quality of life for 72 living and deserving souls each year.”
Just as Simmons invests his time and expertise to ensure On Command K9’s success, each year DAV invests in a veteran whose business plan wins top honors in EBV’s business plan competition. As this year’s recipient of DAV’s Arthur H. and Mary E. Wilson Award for Top Venture Impacting Veterans, Simmons has earned the organization’s investment in his future.
The award is made possible by an ongoing contribution from Rick Fenstermacher, chief operating officer of the Disabled Veteran’s LIFE Memorial Foundation. Fenstermacher established the award in honor of retired National Adjutant Art Wilson and his wife Mary and to inspire individuals and corporations to contribute to the fund to expand its reach to other worthy individuals.
Simmons counts DAV among the “awesome organizations” that helped him turn his passion for training dogs and helping others into a business.
“This grant will allow me to make improvements to my training facility a year earlier than I had originally planned,” Simmons said. “This will allow me to take on more clients and begin my military program much sooner. The award will also allow me to visit other organizations doing similar activities so that I can possibly benchmark, or at least reduce the learning curve.”
The scholarship isn’t the first time DAV has had an impact on Simmons.
“DAV assisted me in my initial claim (for benefits),” says Simmons. “The process can be overwhelming, but my counselor from DAV simplified the process and educated me on the other programs I was eligible for.”
Simmons says the transition from military to civilian life can be difficult and encourages others to keep in mind that veterans are honest, hard-working and dedicated professionals who can be great assets in the community and workplaces.
“We sacrifice a lot during service and most just want a chance to continue to give once we return home,” Simmons says.
He stresses the important role that DAV has played in his life as well as so many other veterans.
“DAV affords veterans the opportunity to pursue dreams beyond our military service,” says Simmons. “To know there are organizations looking out for veterans and their families in the sea of red tape is very comforting, and DAV leads the way. Thanks to DAV, I can pursue my dreams while helping to support my family.”
“It is an honor to be associated with an award that recognizes and encourages contributions by veterans to the veteran community,” said Wilson, the award’s namesake. “Through his business, Ben Simmons is taking his military experience and the training he received through EBV to improve the lives of his fellow veterans, their families and caregivers. It’s a win-win concept.”