TAMPA (WFLA) – Kelly Smith lost her arm in Iraq in 2007 while caring for children injured in a bomb attack on a local school.

“We were handling some of the kids and things when our explosion happened,” Smith said.

The doctors reattached her arm, and the ex-Navy sergeant continued to serve for eight years.

“It’s your identity,” said Smith. “That’s how I defined myself.”

With little functionality, she decided in 2015 to completely amputate her left arm. She said she couldn’t stay in the military after that – and then things went downhill.

“I kept getting into arguments everywhere I went,” said Smith. “I didn’t want to be part of my family.”

“Then I was introduced to Cook. He opened my world. “

Smith is a graduate of the Sierra Delta, an organization founded by Marine Corps veteran BJ Ganem, that helps train service dogs and match them with military veterans.

There are 18 million veterans in the U.S., but Ganem says only a few thousand of them have service dogs.

“One of the things that set us apart is that we look at the existing dogs in the [veteran’s] Budget and what training we can do on them to meet the specific needs of the veteran, ”said Ganem.

The head of MacDill Air Force Base is helping veterans provide more service dogs for veterans who need them.

“We know that service dogs have a significantly positive psychological effect,” said General Frank McKenzie, head of Central Command at MacDill. “And they can also help with the physical aspects of a combat injury. I fully support this and we will do everything we can to help in this area. “

Smith, with Cook by her side, said she managed to reconnect with her family and have a life again.

“Now life is wonderful,” said Smith. “And with Cook by my side, we know we can do almost anything.”