A Stop for Gas Changed His Life

When Army veteran Chuck Stewart’s wife stopped at a Weigel’s store, his life was forever changed.

March 10, 2022

Army Veteran Chuck Stewart

By Chrissy Blasinsky

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—“My wife stopped at a Weigel’s with a sign on top of a gasoline pump,” said Army Sgt. First Class (retired) Chuck Stewart.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“I just never thought filling up a tank of gas would change my life. It’s mind blowing...I don’t question it.”

We met Stewart and his mobility assistance dog, Sadie, while filming the Weigel’s team for NACS Ideas 2 Go. Weigel’s is a sustaining partner of Smoky Mountain Service Dogs (SMSD), whose mission is to enhance the quality of life for wounded and disabled veterans by providing them with a highly and custom trained mobility assistance service dog at no cost to that veteran.

The sign that Stewart’s wife saw was a pumptopper for an in-store campaign supporting SMSD—a Weigel’s store she had never visited.

“We looked online about what Smoky Mountain Service Dogs was…filled out the application that night. … Within a month of filling out the application, I was already in a two-week school to receive a service dog,” said Stewart, who has been with Sadie for five years.

“Life is grand right now,” he said, but before Sadie, life was anything but.

“I’m a 26-year Army veteran. Combat veteran of Iraq, Desert Storm and Afghanistan. I was in the United States Army 18 years as a counter sniper in the Infantry. I’ve been retired since 2014, I’m 100% disabled, through the VA. I have severe PTSD; I was wounded twice in Iraq with traumatic brain injuries, and I had a parachute accident that went 17 years unnoticed. Compression fractures in my spine,” Stewart explained.

The timing of Stewart’s wife stopping for gas at Weigel’s and seeing that pumptopper was fate.

“I lost some soldiers; I lost a couple of best friends who were deployed with me. I realized in that dark place I never got closure on a lot of things that came to light, even going back to Desert Storm,” Stewart shared. “That was probably the root of my PTSD, and I went all those years [20 years] not even knowing and not doing anything for it. Just suppress it. It’s the road of recovery, especially when you get a service dog, because you know you’ve taken the right steps to take to get one.”

It's not lost on Stewart how a local family-owned convenience store chain can help save lives.

“It’s a lot easier when you know you’ve got allies behind you, a support system, and those ripple effects go back to Weigel’s. None of this would have happened without support like that. I can’t imagine not having Weigel’s around and having the direct support. And the family being involved—that says a lot when you’ve got the owner and the family involved.”

Today, Stewart continues to work with SMSD to help other veterans in the community get paired with a service dog.

“Every time I go to Weigel’s I’m looking for Smoky Mountain Service Dogs [signage] and I see it on the freezer, getting a drink I see the sticker on the [cooler] door. I’m proud of that. I think they are to.”

You can see more on Weigel’s and Stewart’s story in “Weigel’s Community Involvement.”

Chrissy Blasinsky is the NACS content communications strategist; she can be reached at cblasinsky@convenience.org.