Matt Burgess - Freedom Fidos Founder Matt Burgess graduated from Bible College in 1992, enlisting in the United States Army the following year. During Matt’s time in the military he was stationed in Germany and at Ft. Hood. He deployed to Bosnia and Macedonia. During his deployments, he experienced three blast explosions. Matt knew he was no longer the same person who had entered the Military, but stayed silent in order to maintain his training and readiness as an Infantryman. Matt finished his enlistment with honor and distinction.
After 9/11/2001, Matt had a desire to work for the Central Intelligence Agency. Matt knew he needed to learn more in order to make that dream a reality, so he enlisted in the Georgia Army National Guard in 2001. During this period of service, he served as a Military Police Officer graduating 2nd in his class out of 110 soldiers. He deployed to Iraq with the 190th MP Unit and was MEDVAC out of Iraq two months later due to a blast explosion and a severe reaction to the Anthrax Vaccination.
Matt was sent to Ft. Benning, GA, to undergo physical evaluations, where the doctors informed Matt that he would not be returned to his Unit. Instead he was being referred to the Medical Evaluation Board to be medically retired from the Army. Hearing this information created a sense of loss not only from a career perspective, but also the realization that life had changed drastically for him. Matt was transferred to Walther Reed Army Medical Hospital for further treatment and for his Medical Evaluation Board. While at Walter Reed, Matt participated in a sleep study only to find out later that he had been a victim of a Military Sexual Trauma. This assault took place by the male technician who was administrating the study and caught on video. The core of who Matt once was had now been totally stripped away.
As Matt, was walking the halls of Walther Reed, he learned of a year long program involving Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. He immediately enrolled and these programs not only began to allow Matt to change course and begin to heal, but also increased his fascination with self-help and mental health.
After extensive military evaluations Matt was determined to have an 80% disabled rating from the US Army and Medically retired. After, a two year process, the Department of Veteran Affairs diagnosed Matt with eighteen medical conditions whittled to a 100% disabled rating with the VA.
After Matt’s retirement, he enrolled in classes at East Central Technical College majoring in RV Repair. Matt then applied to the Syracuse University Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) and was accepted. He then began college at Gainesville State in 2010, receiving his Political Science Associates Degree. Matt then applied to and was accepted into the University of Georgia as a Psychology Major. It was during his time at UGA he was sent an email regarding a program called, Soldiers to Summits.
Soldiers to Summits, uses the lessons of climbing mountains to teach Veterans how to overcome the barriers in their own lives. Being interested, Matt applied for the program and was selected for the Mount Cotopaxi, Ecuador expedition. During this year long program Matt had the honor to meet and become friends Erik Weihenmayer. Erik would later become a pivotal friend, mentor, and a huge support for Matt and his recovery. Erik inspired Matt but also challenged him to become a better version of himself while engaging with humanity.
With the help of his rope team, Matt reached the summit of Mount Cotopaxi on 12/12/12. The mental hurdles, the healing, and the peace Matt found and overcame as he climbed Mount Cotopaxi showed Matt that with the right preparation and teammates anything is possible. This new mindset changed the the way Matt approached the world.
After Soldiers to Summits, Matt returned to UGA, where he suffered another traumatic brain injury, which led to more health problems, including blackouts. It was during these blackouts that Matt’s dog Brinks, would provide life saving measures by waking him up when he stopped breathing at night and alerting people to his black outs. Since Matt was doing a great deal of travel for public speaking engagements, he wanted Brinks to be able to travel with him in case this happened while on the road. Matt found a Service Dog Organization in Myrtle Beach, SC that would help him train Brinks to become his service animal. It was during this time that Matt realized his gift with training dogs and it reshaped the vision of his life moving forward.
In June 2014, after learning how to train service dogs, Matt partnered with another individual creating Freedom Fidos. Freedom Fidos used rescue dogs from shelters, trained them to be task trained service dogs, and then provided them at no cost to disabled Veterans.
In 2016, Matt made the decision to move the operation to Georgia, wanting to get back to a State he loves. Freedom Fidos as a South Carolina Incorporation was dissolved. Matt filed Fidos4Heroes Inc, d.b.a. Freedom Fidos as a Georgia Based Nonprofit and received the IRS 501(c)(3) status in September 2016. Since its inception in 2014, Freedom Fidos has trained and certified 36 Service Dogs and Handlers.
In November 2016, Fidos4Heroes, Inc, d.b.a. Freedom Fidos, purchased a four acre plot of land which is the new and permanent location of the Freedom Fido’s Facility.