By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
As a Red Sox fan, I've never had anything nice to say about the Yankees -- not even when Johnny Damon joined their ball club. But last week the New York baseball team finally did something worthy of celebration: On May 12, before taking the field to play the Seattle Mariners, the team honored former handler Marine Cpl. Megan Leavey and her now retired working dog, Rex, in a pre-game ceremony at home plate.
Cpl. Leavey and Sgt. Rex journey to Yankee Stadium started earlier this spring when Mindy Levine, the wife of the team's president, read about the pair and their two tours together in Iraq, during which both dog and handler suffered serious injuries. (It was for her service with Rex that Leavey received the Purple Heart, which sadly was stolen while she and Rex were recuperating.) The Levines were so moved by the story that they took it upon themselves to reach out to Leavey, even paying for her trip to pick up Rex from his home base Camp Pemblton in California when Leavey's petition to adopt her former partner was finally approved.
When Rex and Leavey trotted out to home plate on game day, they were presented with an autographed jersey and a Tiffany & Co. charm engraved with Rex's name by Yankees players Nick Swisher and Alex Rodriguez. At the end of the tribute, "Marine Capt. Eric Tausch surprised Leavey with a Purple Heart -- a replacement for [the one that had been] stolen."
The crowd rose to its feet and gave Leavey and Rex a standing ovation.
We've been following MWD Rex's career pretty closely -- from the new book about his first tour in Iraq, to his recent adoption by Leavey -- and though he's become something of a national celebrity, Rex has been enjoying a more ordinary existence as a housedog with Leavey in Rockland Country, NY. "He's just living the retired life," [she] said of her robust companion. "Wake up, eat breakfast, lounge around the yard and play with your toys. He can do whatever he wants."
Not that civilian life is putting Rex off his war-dog guard. When A-Rod jogged out to present Leavey with the Tiffany heart, the third baseman got a little too near Rex's handler and the dog "jumped up in front of Leavey, causing A-Rod to jump back before reaching home plate." Good eye, Rex.
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Free Press.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.