The Best Defense

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Blog Posts … War Dogs Descend on Best Defense

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

There's been some exceptionally noteworthy and, in at least one case, monumental, war-dog news this week. And being the ever-generous canine enthusiast that he is, Tom is letting Best Defense go to the dogs -- at least for today.

In this special line-up we have a dispatch from the dedication ceremony of the first-ever official national memorial to military working dog teams and a post about the Special Forces dogs going after Joseph Kony.

But first, here's a quick rundown of the headlines at home and abroad:

  • For the first time, the Royal Australian Air Force is going to allow its military dogs to be adopted by their handlers and "spend the rest of their years out in the home environment rather than the service environment." Head of the MWD Unit at RAAF, Sgt. Russ Durre, called it "a big step from what we've done in the past." While civilians often adopt retiring MWDs, usually when a U.S. service dog retires there's a nice long line of handlers ready and waiting to take their former partners home for keeps. Kudos to Aussie forces, but I'm guessing that the consensus is that this is a step long overdue.
  • In October we said farewell to U.S. MWD Athos who was laid to rest on Oct. 30 at his home station at Joint Base Charleston, and to MWDs Fama and Beny who had both deployed to Iraq during their war-dog careers.
  • In happier news, former Marine Corps IDD handler Sergeant Jonathan Cooper, who had been searching for news of his canine partner -- a yellow lab named Ggunner -- finally got word this week of the dog's whereabouts. The two had deployed to Afghanistan together in 2011, but Cooper had lost track of the dog and put out word of his search on Facebook in the hopes of finding and eventually adopting Ggunner. Here's hoping they'll be reunited.

Hat tip: The nameless and still-dedicated former handlers who run the Military Working Dogs FB page.

Rebecca Frankel is special projects editor at Foreign Policy.

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The Best Defense

War Dog Guest: A Dispatch from the First-Ever National MWD Monument

Former Marine dog handler Mike Dowling was one of the very first MWD handlers to be sent into Iraq in 2004. We've long been following tales of Mike's deployment with his dog Rex here on WDotW. On Oct. 28, Mike attended -- along with hundreds of others -- the Military Working Dog Teams National Monument dedication ceremony at Lackland Air Force Base.

Military Working Dog Teams: A Legacy of Saving & Protecting Lives
By Mike Dowling

Serving as a Marine Corps dog handler with my military working dog, Rex E168 (Rex's serial number), was the greatest experience I had in my life.

But before becoming a dog handler I, regrettably, had very little knowledge of the history and proud legacy built by the blood, sweat, and tears of the war dog teams that served in previous conflicts, including WWII, Korea, and the Vietnam War. Do a little research and you will quickly find the legacy of war dog teams is that of triumph and tragedy, but overall incredible success -- success at saving lives, thanks to the bravery and heroics of those dedicated dog teams. I feel all dog teams that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan -- as well as those dog teams continuing to serve today -- have proudly carried on that legacy of success with new chapters of triumph and tragedy.

That proud legacy is now immortalized thanks to the Military Working Dog Teams National Monument that was dedicated on Oct. 28. The monument is the culmination of over eight years of advocacy by Vietnam dog handler John Burnam and his dedicated team of former dog handlers. The occasion was long overdue, and yet it's another example of how passionate and dedicated handlers are in getting these "unsung heroes" the recognition, honor, and respect they deserve. Now that the monument has been dedicated they are officially no longer unsung heroes -- they are just heroes.

I was beyond humbled to have been asked to speak during the dedication ceremony. I couldn't help but feel emotional as I spoke about Rex and my friend Sgt. Adam Cann, a dog handler killed in action. The emotions did not end there, however, as I was honored to meet the parents of Cpl. Dustin Lee and Colton Rusk, both dog handlers who had been killed in action. I also was reacquainted with the veterinarian who saved Rex's life when he performed an emergency gastropexy on him. Thankfully, our beloved veterinarians and vet techs are honored on the monument as well.

The most moving part of the ceremony for me was when Vietnam dog handler Jim Frost spoke with conviction to all Vietnam handlers, proclaiming "all your dogs are home now!" The war dogs that served in Vietnam are the only ones who never came home and, deservedly, there is a special "Not Forgotten Fountain" just for them.

The monument represents a proud tradition and legacy of saving lives. It is a symbol of honor and ultimate respect for war dog teams that have served in the past, those currently serving, and those dog teams who have yet to build a bond. It is especially symbolic for those handlers and dogs that have paid the ultimate sacrifice, for they will truly never be forgotten. 

SEMPER K9 

Mike Dowling is the author of Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between A Marine and His Military Working Dog.

Above Mike poses with Rachel Lisenbee (mother of Dustin Lee) and the parents of Colton Rusk and his dog Eli.

Benjamin Faske/U.S. Air Force photo; Courtesy of Mike Dowling