I am very proud to announce the release of my book “Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog” on Tuesday, December 13th, 2011. I’d like to share in my own words the feeling of gratification in completing this project and how it all came about.
I received an email from a British author named Damien Lewis in the early spring of 2010 saying he is interested in writing about military working dogs and asked if I can assist. He sent me links to his previous books and awards he accumulated as an author. We ended up speaking and he asked about my experiences as a dog handler. I responded by saying I think it would be great if he could write a book about the 12 Marine Corps dog teams that deployed to Iraq from March 2004- September 2004 in which my dog, Rex, and I were a part of. Those 12 teams were the first Marine Corps dog teams to operate on the front lines of combat since Vietnam and were sent to figure out how to best train future dog teams to be deployed in today’s combat environments.
He said that could be far too much to research and that he wanted to focus the story on one team. He said he was fascinated in doing Rex’s story with me because he enjoyed how passionately I spoke of Rex and the fact that we operated in an area called The Triangle of Death. He also enjoyed how I described Rex as a huge comfort to me while deployed dealing with the potential loss of my father at the time, who was passing away from cancer.
I was hesitant to do the story for two reasons.
1. I had incredibly demanding hours during that time working with the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Battalion-West assisting wounded Marines during their recovery. I didn’t know if I was going to have the time to do this.
2. I felt uneasy putting my life on public display like that and felt all of our dog teams were worthy of having their story told.
I mentioned these two concerns to Damien and the following conversation took place…
Damien: “How much do you love Rex?”
Me: “I love him to death”
Damien: “Do you think Rex’s story is worth telling and how would you feel if the book brought more awareness to how great military working dog teams are?”
Me: “Rex’s story is definitely worth telling, I tell it all the time because I love him so much and I think it would be great if more people knew about how amazing these dogs are.”
Damien: “Well when do you think you will ever get a chance again to tell his story for all to read and have people love him like you do?”
The rest was history.
Since Damien was on European time and I was in sunny San Diego, Ca. I would wake up almost everyday around 5am and Skype for a couple hours before heading to work. After receiving instructions from our publisher and what they were asking, I took a leave of absence and flew to see Damien to work day and night on the story ensuring he had all of my photos/videos of Rex until we ended up with the final version of the story.
The whole process was very cathartic for me and I am extremely grateful to Damien for his patience and enthusiasm on working on the project. I am also very grateful to Peter Borland of Atria books for falling in love with Rex’s story and giving us the opportunity to publish with them.
At the time of writing this post, Rex is now 10 years old and still serves as a military working dog in the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton, Ca. There are dozens of working dogs at Camp Pendleton and he is currently the oldest and longest serving dog there.
A military working dog will go through several handlers throughout their career. I had the privilege of being Rex’s first at Camp Pendleton. He is now on his 12th handler. “Sergeant Rex” is only about my experiences with Rex. It doesn’t cover the rest of his amazing career in which he completed two more combat deployments with his then handler Megan Leavey. Like Rex’s first deployment, his next two would be in very hostile areas. During his third tour, Rex and Megan would be wounded in action when Rex located an IED but it detonated before they could escape it. Fortunately the ground took most of the force and the two recovered from their wounds.
It is now proven that dogs can suffer from PTSD just like veterans do and Rex was diagnosed with a mild case of it after being wounded in action and never deployed again. He continues to be very effective at Camp Pendleton as a working dog.
He is one of the most gorgeous looking German Shepherds you will ever lay your eyes on which is why we nicknamed him “Sexy Rexy.” He is also VERY protective of his handler and can become aggressive which earned him the nickname “Tyrannosaurus Rex.” In fact, he is notorious for almost biting powerful people including General James Mattis, former commandant of the Marine Corps General James Conway, President Obama, and even the pilot of Air Force One, among several others.
The reason the book is titled “Sergeant Rex” is because as handlers we are trained to address our dogs as one rank higher than our own rank at the time we are handling them so we treat them with respect at all times. I was a corporal during the time of our deployment in 2004 making Rex a sergeant.
Military dogs have saved thousands of lives in every war they have served in. There are many incredible stories about these heroic dog teams but very few have been told. I have two goals with the book “Sergeant Rex”. (1) I hope everyone who reads it grows to love Rex as much as I do (2) That more handlers will be encouraged to come forward and tell their own amazing stories of their experiences with their dogs.
Until all those stories come, I hope you all enjoy “Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog”
Mike Dowling & Rex E168