(WFRV) – It was always his dream to wear a uniform, but Matthew Solberg’s dream got cut short almost as quickly as it started.
“Middle school is probably where I decided I wanted to be in the Marine Corps,” explained Solberg.
He never dreamed of another career as it was always the Marine Corps.
“It was just one of those things where I just wanted to be part of something like that, something that was bigger and something that would take me out of the small town area,” said Solberg.
Solberg would get his wish shortly after enlisting when his unit deployed to Iraq in 2004, but the trip overseas would change his young life forever.
“We were just getting done with a patrol, and we were getting back into the vehicles, and there was an IED underneath the back of our vehicle,” explained Solberg.
It left him with a traumatic brain injury at just 19 years old. Solberg was now forced to give up the life that he had always dreamed of.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘What do I do now?’ I wanted to make a career out of it. I loved being in the infantry,” stated Solberg. “I felt like everything had kind of just started.”
And just as quickly, it had come to an end. Solberg spiraled into addiction, feeling lost and alone. But a new journey was on the horizon in the form of a hunting puppy, Hunter.
“I really think he helped me transition between feeling kind of just lost and then kind of having a direction,” said Solberg. “Even though, at that time, I didn’t know I would end up wanting to do that as a career, I just saw it as personal growth, having a dog and having him really changed me.”
Solberg trained Hunter, and they went on countless hunts together, one of the most special; the Horicon Marsh Veteran’s Hunt.
It opened Solberg up to a whole new network of Wisconsin veterans who shared a lot of the same experiences as Solberg.
“Being able to talk to some of those guys that have already gone through that, or are a couple of chapters ahead of me in that stage of life, and they can say, ‘Yeah, this is what I did.’ They helped me with those things, and it definitely helped me wrap my mind around some of those things and feel hopeful,” added Solberg.
But the biggest difference-maker was his best bud, Hunter.
“I started realizing how much that relationship with him had helped me, and I knew there’s something there for veterans, not just with owning a dog but being involved in the training with the dog. There’s a bond there that you can’t really get anywhere else.”
Hunter passed away a few years ago, and Solberg welcomed his new hunting pup, Chip.
While reflecting on his time with Hunter and the process of training Chip, Solberg says his path forward became more clear.
“I knew this is what I’m called to do. I really felt like the Lord was leading me to do this and to help other guys experience this. That’s why I started my own kennel.”
Solberg now owns and operates Maple Leaf Kennels in Door County, spreading his message of hope and healing to others.
“Don’t give up on yourself. There are people out there that want to help and are ready to help. Have the same courage that you had when you signed up to join the military, Have that same courage to say, ‘I need help.'”
And that none of it would have been possible without his pal, Hunter.
“Thanks, buddy; I miss you so much. Hunter, you kept my life from going over the edge.”