By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
This week U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Jeremy Vanhoose welcomed home, officially, his former partner, MWD Imi -- or as she's otherwise described by Jeremy's mother, "the missing piece to Jeremy's puzzle of recovery."
While on patrol in Sangin Afghanistan last August, Vanhoose and his unit encountered not one but three IEDs. Imi alerted to the danger, but setting off the devices couldn't be helped. In the explosion Vanhoose lost his left foot and sustained "shrapnel wounds to the right leg, back, and head" and was medevaced from the scene. As soon as he was able, Vanhoose was quick to let others know that he didn't blame Imi for what happened saying, "she was onto something and I just took one more step."
Reported stories about this team are so far scarce, but the pair is said to have been a close one. Vanhoose was a steadfast handler who spent long hours training with Imi, a German shepherd, before their deployment to ensure they were as ready as possible. In almost three months of service the team is said to have had approximately two-dozen finds. It is a dedication and commitment that Vanhoose has applied to his recovery.
From what I gather from the personal and emotional account that Ms. Vanhoose gave in January to Silent Rank Sisterhood (a nonprofit organization devoted to offering resources and support to military families), after sustaining his injury Jeremy was told that he would be able to adopt Imi. It turned out to be a promise of support that was more complicated to secure than the family had anticipated. The question of whether or not Imi might have to redeploy surfaced after Jeremy returned to the States in September and the adoption became uncertain.
But Vanhoose's mother, Leisa, a self-described "proud Marine mom" led the charge, what appears to have been a tireless campaign of letter writing and rallying Internet support, to get Imi home to Jeremy. Efforts no doubt, which did not go unnoticed. Today, Mama Vanhoose thanked Jeremy and Imi's Facebook supporters -- she estimates the page has reached some 247,574 users -- for their well wishes, concern, and now the shared celebration.
It is indeed a happy reunion for the family with perhaps even deeper meaning. When Jeremy joined the Marines after graduating from high school, he was following in the footsteps of his older brother, Joseph, who had also enlisted in the Marine Corps but was diagnosed with cancer just before he received deployment orders to Iraq. He succumbed to his illness and passed away in 2007. Adopting Imi may have been a long and fraught-filled journey for the Vanhooses, but now there are two Marines in their household once again.
Side note: As it stands now the MWD adoption process, especially for those canines still considered viable for active duty, can be painstakingly slow and arduous. However, I've heard accounts from both sides of the table; devoted handlers and their families who are keen to bring their former partners home and from program managers who deal with the requests and are bound not only by regulations but the high demand and continuing need for these dogs downrange. I have yet to encounter anyone involved in this process who isn't trying to do what's best for the handlers, dogs, and for the troops on the ground. There is legislation in the works that addresses the retirement and adoption process of MWDs, something we'll address in an upcoming post.
Hat Tip: MWD Facebook page.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.