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.
Click on this photo to visit the "Sergeant Rex" fanpage on Facebook
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.
Military working dog Chyba passed away from pancreatic cancer on Saturday July 30th, she was 12 years old. MWD Chyba lived a long and heroic life, completing multiple combat tours with the U.S. military. She was the inspiration behind the monument at the Rancho Coastal Humane Society in Encinitas, Ca. I’ll never forget having had the honor of meeting Chyba once before and tell her thank you for her service.
A VOTE FOR BINO IS A VOTE FOR ALL MWDs. I am the author of the MWD TRANSPORT, RECLASSIFICATION & COMMENDATION AMENDMENT. We are DESPERATE to get a sponsor for this Amendment and by winning we can use this opportunity to BENEFIT ALL MWDs…PRESENT and FUTURE. We need YOUR HELP for this history changing MWD AMENDMENT! Vote for Bino ONCE A DAY EVERY DAY until July 31st! TOGETHER WE CAN CHANGE THE MWD WORLD!! http://www.herodogawards.org/view-entries.html#search/bino” -Debbie Kandoll
“Follow the incredible story of the US Marine war dog platoons of WWIIwhen marine commanders were willing to try anything, including using dogs to sniff out hidden enemy. But nobody anticipated just how effective they would be against the enemy and how important they would become to their handlers.” http://military.discovery.com
by Kevin Chandler
97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
7/8/2009 - ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – Staff Sgt. James Hall, 97th Security Forces kennel master, and his military working dog, Endy, were recent recipients of the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce Champions of Freedom award.
The two were recognized, along with six other military members throughout the state, for heroic actions while deployed overseas.
heroes on patrol
Staff Sgt. James Hall, 97th Security Forces kennel master and military working dog Endy help a convoy during patrols in Afghanistan. While deployed, Sergeant Hall and Endy recovered more than 800 pounds of explosives and weapons and uncovered three pressure plate improvised explosive devices buried in major roadways. The Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce recognized Sergeant Hall and Endy with the Champions of Freedom award in Oklahoma City, Okla June 30. (Courtesy photo)
From October 2008 to April 2009, Sergeant Hall and Endy were deployed to a forward operating location in Afghanistan. Attached to the 7th and 3rd Special Forces Groups, Sergeant Hall and Endy participated in over 25 combat operations, recovering over 800 pounds in weapons and explosives. They also discovered three buried pressure plate improvised explosive devices, enabling convoys to safely traverse the country.
“We were in harm’ s way almost 24/7,” Sergeant Hall said. While his seven years of experience as a K-9 handler prepared him for the demanding assignment, Sergeant Hall says his partner is the one reason he returned home safely.
“He (Endy) saved my life repeatedly,” Sergeant Hall explained, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.”
According to Sergeant Hall, the duo proved so effective during their deployment as a result of the rapport they developed in the months prior to leaving. Endy, who has been in the military working dog program since 2003, developed such a strong bond with Sergeant Hall that when one sensed danger the other was able to respond. Endy also went to nearby Fort Sill to train on flying in helicopters in preparation for the deployment.
While this was Endy’s first deployment, the kennel here usually deploys four dogs every year. The dogs are trained for security patrols, clearing buildings and detecting drugs and explosives. The kennel currently houses seven dogs, two trained in detecting drugs and five used to detect explosives. The handlers also train rigorously in skills needed for security forces and K-9 handlers. For example, all handlers must be certified in K-9 self aid buddy care. This training proved useful to Sergeant Hall and Endy.
“We were out in the field, far away from any base, when Endy got caught in constantine wire. I got him out of the wire but he was sliced up pretty bad and I had to sew up his wounds right there,” Sergeant Hall said.
One of the more demanding tasks Sergeant Hall encountered upon his arrival to Afghanistan was assimilating into a Total Force unit environment. The unit was largely comprised of Army personnel, requiring Sergeant Hall and his counterparts to adapt to one another to develop cohesion.
“I had to tell them my capabilities so we could lay out how we were going to work together,” he explained. “It took a while for them to get to know me, to know that I would have their back.” Ultimately, it was Endy who broke the ice between Sergeant Hall and the other members of the unit.
“When we found an IED, the walls came down,” Sergeant Hall said with a grin.
While he has received several awards for his actions in Afghanistan, including the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the NATO Medal and the Army Combat Action Badge, Sergeant Hall said this award was something special.
“The state of Oklahoma really supports the military,” he said. “I believe everyone over there and here stateside deserves that kind of recognition.”
Call them War Dogs, K-9s, Military Police dogs, or Hell Hounds.
By any name, they are an important part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Recently the dogs brought along their handlers and put on a demonstration aboard Al Asad Air Base in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province.
Meet Diva, Rex and Bach.
Produced by Randy Garsee.