By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
At eleven years old and after a long career of detecting explosives and no fewer than two deployments behind her, Hexa is hanging up her working leash. She is leaving her home station kennel at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, AZ (not to be confused with the Yuma Proving Ground) for life as a housedog with former MP Staff Sgt. Neal Moody.
It seems that Hexa is suffering from a neurological disease that will ultimately leave her blind; Even now you can see that her eyes are coated with the telltale milky glaze. The article also reports that Hexa is suffering from Canine PTSD, though it doesn't hint at a specific trauma or how deeply affected her day-to-day life is by either affliction. Still while life as a working dog wears on any animal (as do multiple deployments), Hexa's handlers report that her keen sense of smell is very much intact and the article makes special mention that she still goes wild for tennis balls.
Back in her heyday Hexa, a large Shiloh Shepherd, was a force to be reckoned with. In 2010 she helped lead a demonstration aimed to prepare the Combat Logistics Regiment 15 for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan -- the special lesson being how MWDs could be used in a hostile combat zone. They are not only there to help find bombs or drugs but can be used to chase down and detain a suspect. The "suspect" Hexa detained in this tutorial was Sgt. Jay Parales who described the experience (seen in the photo above) as "pretty intense" and "scary but fun."
"That dog," Parales said then speaking of Hexa, "Took me down like I was a little toy."
War-Dog Aside: In last week's post I wrote that Marine canine handler Sgt. William Sutra was going to be awarded the Navy Cross for the heroics he (and his dog Posha) displayed in Afghanistan. You can watch Sutra receive the Navy Cross here. The comments offered during this ceremony give a far better account of what happened on that fateful day than any report I've read elsewhere. (Hat tip: Mike Dowling.)
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Atria Books in September 2013.
Photos by Cpl. Aaron Diamant
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.