MA2 Sean Brazas holding MWD Sicario at Yuma Proving Ground.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Shock and sadness rippled through the MWD world this week with the news that handler U.S. Navy Master at Arms 2nd Class Sean Brazas died on May 30th. He was killed by a single bullet while helping a fellow serviceman into a helicopter during "combat operations in Panjwa'l, Afghanistan." MA2 Brazas's working dog and partner, Sicario, was reportedly treated for heat exhaustion that day but was not injured in the attack.
Brazas is survived by his wife, Allie, and their 13-month-old daughter. Originally from Greensboro, NC, Brazas had just celebrated his 26th birthday on May 1, only days after arriving in Afghanistan.
In April, just before the pair deployed, Brazas and Sicario went through the Inter-Service Advance Skills K9 course, the three-week, Marine-run training program based out of Yuma Proving Ground in Yuma, AZ. Upon completion of the course the pair received high honors, claiming the Top Dog Award.
MA1 Jennifer Trambulo, an instructor at YPG, told me yesterday that, "Brazas made such an impact on all of us instructors ... He was so appreciative of all the people that helped him get K-9. He gave the ultimate sacrifice. He will never be forgotten."
One of Brazas's mentors, MA1 Shannon Golden, says Sean was a remarkably hard-working handler who "always had a smile on his face." She and Sean were stationed together in Guam a few years ago; he was there on kennel support. "The first time I met Sean was when he came over to find out how he could become a dog handler. He wanted to work with dogs so bad that he dedicated his off time to come over to the security department and work at the kennels."
Golden, who is currently deployed in Africa, spoke with me online late last night. She talked about Sean openly, and the fresh pain of her loss was palpable. Golden said that her first reaction to the news of Sean's death was anger. "I have to admit that I was very mad when I heard," she told me. "Even mad at him cause he told me earlier that he was gonna be fine, that 'I know him' and 'he's quick on his feet.'" But even in his death, Golden feels Sean's character shines through. That he was killed while assisting someone else, is to her just "typical Sean."
"He cared about everyone. He put his life on the line. I think even if he knew by helping that soldier to [the helicopter] things would turn out the way it did, he would still help the guy."
Tucked in the corner of MA2 Sean Brazas's Facebook page, under "favorite quotation," is a line by Will Rogers, American cowboy and 1920s vaudeville celebrity, that is now as painful as it is poignant to take in. It reads: "If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went."
Cpl. Keaton G. Coffey on deployment with his MWD, posted March 19.
Brazas's death comes too close on the heels of news of another canine handler killed in action only days earlier in Helmand, Afghanistan, Marine Cpl. Keaton Coffey. According to the DoD release, he died on May 24th also "during combat operations." His dog, Denny, survived.
Cpl. Coffey only had three weeks left on his tour during his second deployment to Afghanistan when he was killed. He was scheduled to return back to his base, Camp Pendleton. The 22-year-old native of Boring, OR, was to be married to in a wedding ceremony planned for this July.
Coffey is remembered as "gentle" and "compassionate." The principal of his high school, where as a senior he was elected student body president, told reporters that even as a young man he was "polite, respectful, kind, and considerate." Coffey's body was returned home to the United States in a flag-draped coffin arriving to Dover Air Force Base on May 26.
A service for Keaton Coffey will be held on June 4 after which he will be laid to rest in the Willamette National Cemetery in Oregon with full military honors. While funeral arrangements are still forthcoming, Sean Brazas will be laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery, alongside his grandfather who fought in WWII.
May has been a cruel month for the MWD community. But the close of this month saw not just an outpouring of grief but also of shared support, respect, and remembrance, with people honoring Coffey and Brazas by posting photos and memories online.
As word of Brazas's death first appeared on the Internet, the public Facebook group Military Working Dogs -- run by a group of former military handlers -- posted the information they had to offer, promising, "We will post more information as we receive it. Rest in peace, brother. We have the watch."
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Free Press.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.