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Soldier’s Best Friend appoints new executive director | News

Soldier’s Best Friend, a nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans living with combat-related stress cope with service or therapy dogs, has appointed Phoenix resident Mik Milem as its new executive director.

Milem, who recently served in multiple roles at the Arizona Burn Foundation, said he’s looking forward to furthering the organization’s growth and reach. Soldier’s Best Friend, located at 14505 N. 75th Avenue, provides US military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) with service or therapeutic companion dogs.

“I would hope to be able to bring just some real stability to the program and to the role. Secondly, just real growth,” Milem told the Peoria Times, citing roughly 14,000 veterans in Arizona with PTSD. “There is a lot more reach that needs to be done, and there are a lot more veterans we could be helping.”

The nonprofit, which has locations in Phoenix, Tucson, Prescott, Sierra Vista and Flagstaff, seeks to aid veterans and dogs — most of which are rescued from local shelters — in “training together to build a trusting relationship that saves two lives at once and inspire countless others.”

Veterans and dogs train together for a period of six to nine months, at which time the dogs are certified as service animals and they graduate from the program together. Training is comprised of private and group sessions two days a week for a minimum of six to nine months, according to Milem.

“I absolutely love it. It has been fantastic,” Milem said of working with SBF. “I’ve had a chance to observe training. I’ve had a chance to observe testing on a veteran and a dog for one of their public access tests. I met with donors and had a fundraiser and met a whole bunch of people. Everyone I’ve met is so committed to seeing the veterans succeed.”

Once a veteran is accepted into our training program, they will be paired with a dog adopted by our nonprofit from a local shelter or with a dog already owned by the veteran.

They will live and train together from that point forward.

“The uniqueness of our program is we train the dog and the veteran together so they build a strong, trusting relationship with each other. We see in the midst of that is the transformation of the veteran as they are going through the training with the dog,” he said, noting most organizations provide a trained dog to veterans as a service dog.

“Which is great, but they still haven’t really conquered their fear of being out in public or fear of certain noises or dealing with nightmares,” he continued. “Those things still exist. While the dog may be trained to help them with that, the veterans themselves are not ready.”

Training includes basic obedience, public outings, and tasks specific to each veteran’s PTSD or TBI symptoms. Once the dog is fully trained in all of these skills, it will be qualified as a service dog or classified as a therapeutic companion dog.

All placement and training fees are free to eligible veterans. However, the veteran will be responsible for transportation and housing costs (if needed).

In the 11 years since the organization’s founding, more than 330 veteran and dog teams have graduated from the program, according to a press release.

Milem, a graduate of Oral Roberts University and Methodist Theological School in Ohio with a master’s degree in education, is not new to the world of nonprofits.

He has spent much of his career in ministry in the community and with Grand Canyon University, he said.

“It’s helping people. It is seeing people reach their full potential,” Milem said. “I think that each of us, if we could learn to walk alongside others to help them reach their full potential, we’d be a much better society.”

The new executive director has served as GCU’s university pastor and was promoted to dean of students in 2010. He oversaw the offices of student and spiritual life.

Milem has also worked in various capacities at the Arizona Burn Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the quality of life for burn survivors and their families and promoting burn prevention advocacy and education in Arizona.

For nearly eight years, he worked his way up from community outreach coordinator to directory of community programs and, lastly, COO.

Milem said he feels that his experience with the Arizona Burn Foundation helped prepare him for his new role.

“It really helped me feel ready to step into this role because the burn survivors, many of them, struggle with PTSD,” he said. “So being able to see how important therapy is for that really attracted me to Soldier’s Best Friend.”

Milem added that he hopes to continue to accelerate the organization’s impact, reach and success.

“I live by, ‘Love people for who they are, right where they are,’” Milem said. “And it has been the guiding principle of my life to say that.”

For more information about Soldier’s Best Friend, visit

soldiersbestfriend.org.

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