OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (KFOR) – His missions are safer. His unit is smaller.

But Mike Penning still gets to be ‘commanding officer’ of his elite team.

“She is a special dog,” he smiles.

Mike and his therapy dog Luna are volunteers with New Leash on Life.

Together, they visit schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and, in on this day, a wellness fair at Oklahoma City University.

“She is an SPCA rescue dog,” he explains to students who stop to pet Luna, “so I don’t have a clue as to what her breed is.”

Luna is the star of this team.

Mike doesn’t mind playing a supporting role at all.

He insists, “We have a really special bond.”

Questions about his own past do come up occasionally though about what he did for a living before his career as a volunteer.

Penning willingly explains the overview of his nearly 23-year career in the Air Force, first as an airman, then as a helicopter pilot deployed to Iraq twice, a completely different kind of service than the kind he performs now.

“The intensity is kind of beyond words,” says Penning of his time as a rescue pilot.

“When you got out did you look for something to take the place of that,” asks his guest?

“I did not,” he replies quickly. “I wanted a whole new version of my life.”

Mike and Luna make a good team.

Luna knows more than 30 different tricks.

She’s smart and dedicated, and needed probably more than she knows.

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“She’s an emotional support animal for me as well,” Penning admits.

Grandfather, father, and now Mike.

Portions of their lives were all defined by service both in and out of uniform.

Mike says the personal rewards are more obvious now.

“You have to find that purpose of why you wake up each day,” he says.

As a volunteer, he argues, “The response is instantaneous. You get that gratification of, ‘I made a difference today in somebody’s life’.”

Serving country and fellow man are both things for which they are eternally grateful.

Mike was recently recognized for his service work by the VFW Still Serving Campaign.

According to that organization, veterans account for an average of 30% more volunteer hours each year when compared to civilians.

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