The date is March 21, 2007 and I was on the job in Fallujah, Iraq when an enemy fired Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) exploded in our midst. I was blasted to the ground. I’m stunned. My head is ringing and my body feels numb. My eyes can’t quite focus on anything.
My partner is lying next to me severely wounded and bleeding. I move to him and touch him but he’s not responding. I feel sharp pains in my side and back. I’m bleeding but deal with it and concentrate on comforting my partner and protecting him from further harm.
Everything happened so fast that it caused disorientation and confusion. My senses pick up the lingering smell of burnt powder and smoke from the explosion. I hear lots of American voices and heavy boot-steps hurrying all around us. They reach our location and immediately attend to my partner. And then they carry him away. I’m separated from my partner for the first time. I’m not clear of thought and then I too am carried way but to a different hospital.
I’m in a building lying on a table with lights above and people talking. Still dazed and confused I hear a strange voice say my name, “Lex!” I gesture a slight reflex of acknowledgement. “Lex! You are going to be okay buddy! Just lay still. We are going to take care of your hurts, so stay calm okay, Lex?” My eyes dart around the room searching for my partner, but he’s not there and no one can interpret my thoughts.
I’m released from the hospital and well enough to travel so they transfer me from Iraq to a U.S. Marine Corp base in Albany, Georgia. I really miss my partner, Dusty. I know something has happened to him because he would never have left me alone for so long.
Yes, my name is Lex. I’m a seven year old German shepherd Military Working Dog, service number E132. My master and loyal partner is Corporal Dustin Jerome Lee, 20 year old U.S. Marine Corps canine handler from Mississippi. I’m well disciplined to my master’s commands and expertly trained to sniff out bombs and explosives. Where’s my master, Dusty? Where’s Dusty, my partner? No one can understand me but Dusty. Where’s Dusty?
Iraq was to be my last combat tour before retirement. Dusty talked to me all the time about going home and adopting me. I sure do miss my Dusty. He is the best friend I’ve ever had. I love that crazy Marine from Mississippi!
No one can measure the love and unconditional loyalty I have for Dusty. I’d sacrifice my own life for him and he knows it. I just wish I could have stopped that RPG or pushed Dusty away from that powerful blast. It all happened in a blink of an eye and I didn’t see it coming until it was too late. Now I sit alone in my kennel-run waiting for the day Dusty shows up.
The U.S. Marines are treating me very well. I get enough food and water and exercise each day. And the Veterinarian comes by to examine my wounds on a regular basis. I just can’t sleep well at night. I wake up to every little noise and I think about Dusty. Where can that Marine be?
The nights are long. The days turn into weeks. Still no Dusty! My wounds are healing and my hair is growing back. The pain still resides in my back but I can walk okay. I have a piece of shrapnel near my spine that the Veterinarians avoided removing for fear of further health complications. I have spent twelve weeks in rehabilitation after my surgery.
One of the dog handlers gave me a real good bath and grooming. I felt so refreshed because I was on my way to meet Dusty’s family. Maybe Dusty will be there waiting for me. When I arrived I sensed something was not quite right. Dusty wasn’t there and everyone was sad, but very happy to greet me. I then realized that I was attending Dusty’s funeral. Everyone showed up to pay their respects.
Dusty is a real American hero and he was buried with full military honors. I was so proud to have been his last best friend and partner. At one particular moment of total silence during the ceremony, I sniffed a slight scent in the air that was very familiar. It smelled like Dusty. I figured he sent me a signal that he knew I was there! I wagged my tail and moaned a sigh of grief that he would only hear and understand. I just about lost my tail in that horrible explosion and a veterinarian fixed it so it wags okay now.
I was greeted by the Lee family with joy in their hearts. The picture is of Dustin’s mom, Rachel, and me in church. It felt so warm and comfortable to be with my partner’s loving family. I wanted to stay but I was escorted away after the funeral and back to Albany, Georgia. What is going to happen to me now?
Wait a minute! I was due for retirement, right? Why did the military take me to see Dusty’s family and not leave me there? I belong with them in Mississippi not here in Georgia. The Lee family adopting me would not be too much to ask considering they will never again see their son, grandson, brother, nephew and friend. Adopting me will keep a big part of Dusty’s life alive for them and for me too! I will enable Dusty’s family to experience what he already knew about me. I loved and protected him everywhere we went and even on the battlefield in Iraq. It’s time the U.S. Marine Corps allowed Dustin’s family to adopt me. I’m not a young pup anymore, you know! I’m a senior and of retirement age. I want to spend last years of my life with the Lee family. It’s where I now belong!
It’s been eight long months since we buried my partner, Dustin, and all attempts by the Lee family to adopt me have failed. The Marines have placed me back on duty training new recruits. My back bothers me some but I’m an expert on the job. It’s the recruits that have a lot to learn about keeping their eyes on me and understanding my body language. Dustin and I bonded as a team and our minds were always in sync.
There has been a turn of events in my adoption. Congressman Walter B. Jones of North Carolina heard my story and immediately contacted the U.S. Marine Corps in Washington D.C. demanding my release. The Marines really showed off their passion for the Lee family and me too! They even dispatched a Veterinarian to give me a complete medical examination. I feel a sense of excitement that I haven’t felt in a very long time. I even have a prance in my step!
The Veterinarian has signed the papers saying I’m okay to be adopted. I got an honorable discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps and will be home with the Lee family for Christmas. That’s a Christmas picture of me and Dusty in Iraq in 2006 and that’s me smiling with the Lee family and some of Dusty’s Marine pals. Dusty? I’m sure you had something to do with all this from heaven. And I can hardly wait to visit your room and lie down on your bed and sniff your boots and clothes. Living with your family will be like having you around again, Dusty!
Military Working Dog
U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)
Post script: After his adoption, Lex began to visit VA hospitals to comfort wounded veterans and assist in their recovery process. On February 16, 2008, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter #566 presented Lex with a commemorative Purple Heart at a ceremony held at the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin Air Force Base. on September 24, 2008, the American Kennel Club announced that Lex won the seventh Law Enforcement AKC Award for Canine Excellence. On March 19, 2010, MCLB Albany’s base dog kennel was named in honor of Lee, with Lex in attendance.
After his adoption, Lex struggled with mobility issues due to his injuries and approximately 50 pieces of shrapnel that remain in his body, despite treatment at Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. On November 16, 2010, Lex began treatment at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital with a course of Vet-Stem stem cell regenerative therapy, with assistance from the Humane Society of the United States and Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield.
Lex died on March 25, 2012 as the result of cancer.
Sources and related stories:
Wikipedia: Lex (dog)
Paws 4 Hearts: Lex’s Story: My Partner Dustin
The Albany Journal: Lex is Going Home (November 29, 2007)
CNN: Iraq war dog to retire with fallen Marine’s family