AUGUSTA – Two and a half weeks after a story appeared about former Army Sgt. Aaron Rollins living in his pickup with his service dog, things are looking up and he’s feeling less alone.

The 39-year-old man, who is in the midst of a divorce, estranged from family and prevented by court order from being at his home in Madison, is staying in a motor home owned by another veteran.

He’s eating better, compliments of a generous Augusta woman who offered him a place to shower and gift cards to local restaurants.

His spirits are buoyed by motorists who drive past his truck in the Sam’s Club parking lot in Augusta, and give him a thumbs up and tell him “Hang in there” and “Keep up the fight, Sgt. Rollins.”

“It’s really been great knowing people care, the one bright spot,” Rollins said. “I’ve just felt so alone.”

He’s become a familiar face at the dog park in Augusta, where he takes his service dog Mabel for exercise. There too, people tell him, “Keep your chin up.”

Rollins said he was reluctant to call a reporter when problems that arose with his service dog, which meant he was no longer able to stay with his dog at a shelter for veterans at VA Maine Healthcare Systems at Togus.

The story was published Oct. 22. Later that day Rollins, 39, had settled into the back seat of his truck, ready to make an early night of it.

Then he heard someone calling, “Sgt. Rollins. Sgt. Rollins.”

It was a fellow veteran from Winthrop, someone who doesn’t want his name used in this story. He had towed his motor home to a slot near Rollins’ pickup in the Sam’s Club parking lot, and told Rollins it was his to use as long as needed.

Rollins agreed to call him the next day and went to sleep, forgetting to turn the key off in his truck and waking with a dead battery. He talked to the Winthrop man the next day and started to stay in the camper.

“It’s a flat, warm place to sleep,” said Rollins, who keeps the thermostat at 50 degrees at night.

Janis Maylin, of Augusta, offered him gift cards as well as a place to shower and do laundry.

“I’ve got a soft spot for veterans and animals,” said Maylin, whose late grandfather was a prisoner of war and disabled veteran of World War II. “To me it was the right thing to go up there and try to assist him.”

He’s been showering there and just this week did a load of laundry in the washer and dryer.

“It’s amazing the little things you miss,” he said Wednesday.

Rollins looked less pale and seemed stronger than he had three weeks ago after a series of nights sleeping in his truck.

Even Mabel, a German shepherd mix, has benefited: One woman who lost her dog last spring gave him the dog’s blanket for Mabel to sleep on.

He can’t use some of the offers. He is diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and other conditions related to being wounded several times in Iraq. Being in crowds – and even just a small group of people – is too hard to handle.

For the times he must mix with the public, Mabel helps him cope. He adopted Mabel from an animal shelter in December 2009 and trained her himself, getting her certified in Maine as a service animal.

Rollins continues to go to the veterans hospital at Togus for clinical appointments and is taking a course in Augusta that will give him certification as a peer counselor. His goal is to aid other veterans.

“Now that I’m more than halfway through, I’m going to try to help out on the warm line,” he said.

He hears occasionally from fellow veterans from the 172nd Mountain Division he served with in Iraq.

One of them is Craig Gibson, formerly of Pittsfield, who served as a medic in Iraq and recalled his stint doubling as a driver when Rollins was a gunner.

They were involved in a recovery mission May 6, 2006, after a roadside device exploded, killing two members of their unit: Sgt. Dale James Kelly Jr., 48, of Richmond, and Sgt. David Michael Veverka, 25, from Jamestown, Pa., who had been a student at the University of Maine. Gibson spoke to Rollins by phone Friday.

“We kind of talked about it,” Gibson said.

Gibson said that Rollins was more positive and joked around more early in the Iraq tour, which ended in 2007. These days, however, Gibson noted the changes in Rollins, who suffered a traumatic brain injury when his unit came under mortar rocket attack in Camp Adder just weeks before his return to the United States.

“He still has a sense of humor,” Gibson said. “But he seems pretty down in general.”

Rollins’ attorney has asked the court for a speedy hearing in the pending divorce, and Rollins hopes that will help him move forward with his housing dilemma.

In the meantime, he wanted to express his appreciation for the support he’s been offered.

“Thank you,” he said. “It’s been great.”

He also wanted to remind people that other veterans might need help as well.

“There’s a lot of others of us out there,” he said. “The stigma of being a soldier with PTSD is really unfortunate.”

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at [email protected]