Posted on 13-12-2007
Filed Under (My Stories) by NightCrawler on 13-12-2007

OK, this is not my story, but a story I just read on the CNN News website.  And since I myself am a former United States Air Force Dog Handler, this story touched my heart in many ways.    I personally charish the times that I spent as a dog handler while stationed at several USAF installations, including 2 in Europe.  The bond between handler and dog are very strong, and in many instances, you are both best friends while performing your assigned duties.   But one of these days I will share those stories as well with the readers.  But first off, here is a very touching story, and the family that knew what their son would have wanted.

Bomb-sniffing dog allowed to live with slain Marine’s family

Lex’s handler Cpl. Dustin Jerome Lee was killed by mortar

Wounded dog had to be pulled away from Lee

Lex is first dog to be granted early retirement

SAVANNAH, Georgia (AP) — Marine Cpl. Dustin Jerome Lee and his German shepherd, Lex, scoured Iraq for roadside bombs together, slept next to each other and even posed in Santa hats for a holiday photo.  Lex, the bomb-sniffing dog, is going to live with the family of Marine Cpl. Dustin Jerome Lee, who was killed in Iraq.  Lee, 20, spent the final months of his life with Lex at his side. He was killed March 21 on a daily mission when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded nearby. The dog was also wounded but crawled over to his handler, nudged his face, then lay at his side as a corpsman treated his wounds, Marines in Lee’s unit told his family.  That strong bond compelled the slain Marine’s family to adopt 8-year-old Lex even though the military said he still had two years of service.

The family lobbied the military for months, launched an Internet petition and enlisted the aid of a North Carolina congressman who took their case straight to the Marine Corps’ top general.  On Wednesday, the Marine Corps finally announced Lex could go home to Lee’s family. It is the first time the military has granted a dog early retirement to be adopted by someone other than a former handler.

“We knew that’s what Dustin would have wanted out of this,” said Jerome Lee, the slain Marine’s father. “He knew that we would take care of Lex and love him, just like our own.”  Lee’s family from Quitman, Mississippi, is scheduled to pick up Lex from the Albany base December 21, exactly nine months after the fatal attack.  Though some shrapnel remains lodged in his back, Lex has otherwise recovered from his wounds and has been serving alongside military policemen at the Albany base since July.  “It is extraordinary,” said Col. Christian Haliday, commander of the Marine Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia, where the dog is based. “As far as we know, it’s the first time that a waiver of policy of this nature has been granted.”  Officials at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, which trains dogs for all service branches, confirmed it is the first case of its kind.

Lee joined the Marines after graduating from high school in 2004. His father said his drive to become a dog handler came from Lee’s mother, who worked with search-and-rescue dogs for their local emergency management agency when Lee was a boy.  After finishing his military police and dog handler training, the young Marine headed to Albany. Lee adopted his first canine partner, Doenja, from the military and sent him home to Mississippi last year when the 11-year-old dog began losing his sight and had to retire.  Lee formed an equally strong bond with his new partner, Lex.  The military has more than 1,700 dogs that work alongside American troops, including about 260 in the Marines. Their bomb-sniffing skills have been in high demand in Iraq and Afghanistan.  U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, said he discussed the Lees’ case with Gen. James T. Conway, the Marine Corps commandant.  “The way I look at this, dogs are being trained every day to be a part of the armed forces,” Jones said. “This family gave their son for their country. This is a small gift back to them.”


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