A Vermont man uses his talents with a sewing machine to support veterans around the country and the world.
“I’m still connected with the military, even though I’m out,” said Mike Audette of Shelburne, a veteran of the U.S. Navy.
From his basement studio, Audette uses a seam ripper to take apart real military uniforms. He then converts that material into custom vests for service dogs, complete with badges, medals, and pockets.
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Dan Burgess of Cape Coral, Florida lost much of his right leg in a bomb blast in Afghanistan and is grateful for the vest Audette created for his service dog.
“He’s living by the motto that the mission never stops,” Burgess said, describing Audette.
Burgess sent Audette his old Army dress blues to be refashioned for his dog, named Sergeant, who calms some of his dad’s PTSD symptoms.
“He’s helped decrease my nightmares,” Burgess said, holding Sergeant in his lap.
The Purple Heart recipient told necn that Sergeant has a serious mission in his family, so should look the part.
“He’s wearing a uniform, just like I do,” Burgess said of his service dog.
Audette said he has made well over 200 of the vests, and has sent them all over the country and even internationally.
Sewing is therapeutic for him, too, he said, since he can’t work a full-time job after suffering a traumatic brain injury in Naval training.
“I kind of feel like my purpose for surviving was to help other veterans,” Audette said.
Audette explained he makes the vests as part of his passion for helping others, and not as a business, adding that doesn’t want to get into that level of production where it becomes a chore.
Veterans learn about his talents through word-of-mouth from other vets, Audette said. He said he doesn’t want to advertise, because that could create a situation where he might get more requests than he could handle.
Audette provides his creations to their recipients in exchange for donations to the Allied Forces Foundation. That non-profit works to improve the quality of life for wounded service members, and ease the burdens on their loved ones.
The donation level can range based on the person’s ability to pay, Audette noted.
“I think that makes Mike kind of a double hero,” said Private First Class Kelsey Ward of the Vermont National Guard, who has one of Audette’s vests.
Ward’s dog, Kyah, isn’t a service animal, but she does wear one of Audette’s creations when she’s with her mom at Vermont National Guard events, including recruiting fairs.
Ward said she is very impressed at Audette’s dedication and selflessness.
“Once you’re in the military, you’re kind of always in the military,” she observed.
For this disabled veteran, helping others is just part of the fabric of life for the U.S. Armed Forces.
“It makes me feel good inside,” Audette said of his work creating original service dog vests and raising money for the Allied Forces Foundation.