Salutes & Awards

November 29, 2012

Military working dog bids farewell to working life

Story and photos by Cpl. Aaron Diamant
Desert Warrior Staff
Retired military working dog Hexa gets used to the simple life while relaxing in the office with her favorite tennis ball.

She’s spent her entire lifetime locating explosives and apprehending suspects, all in the name of one thing. Tennis balls.

That is, if she could tell you what her one thing was. But, to the military, military working dog Hexa has been an invaluable tool, trained to risk her life to safeguard all others from the risks posed by improvised explosive devices.

To all who know and understand military working dogs, they are nothing short of heroes. In her younger years, Hexa deployed to Iraq twice, locating explosive devices and undoubtedly saving countless lives. She was even involved in the Battle of Fallujah, serving valiantly in some of the worst urban combat undertaken in decades.

Now, her once expressive eyes are now clouded over, a result of her age and a condition which is causing her to slowly drift into blindness. The Shiloh Shepherd’s long, flowing coat shows streaks and patches of gray, evidence of her lifetime of service to her country, but to Hexa, it was all about making her handlers proud and getting to chew on her tennis ball, or any ball in sight for that matter.

In her old age, she wasn’t put to work like she had been in her youth. The station’s handlers were waiting on her adoption package to be approved, which moved Hexa into a caregiver position. She was still brought out of her kennel, played with and loved on, but her working days were done.

It wasn’t rare for her to prance into the office like the princess she is, and immediately start searching the area. This time, it wasn’t for explosives, but rather for toys. Even though her sight is slowly diminishing, her sense of smell is still keen.

Military working dogs live a somewhat complicated life. Destined from birth to locate explosives or narcotics, as well as apprehend suspects, from the age of mere months, their training begins. For the dogs, it’s a simple thought process: I smell this, I let my handler know, I get my toy and told I’m a good dog.

For the handlers, it’s learning the individual animal. The signs they give, the directions they require, the encouragement they need, the love and admiration they deserve.

Retired military working dog Hexa shows her skills during a demonstration for Combat Logistics Regiment 15 Marines prior to their 2009 deployment. She showcased skills used in her deployment to Fallujah, Iraq.

The hardest part for any handler is saying goodbye, whether the handler is leaving for another duty station or ending their time in the Corps, or the dog reaches their time to retire.

Hexa’s turn has come at long last. She’s nearly 11 years old, old for any large breed dog, but especially as an active military working dog. She’s being adopted by Staff Sgt. Neal Moody, a former Marine Corps Air Station Yuma military policemen now stationed in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The adoption process involves prioritizing the applications that the Marine Corps receives. MWD handlers have first priority, active-duty military have second priority, and the general population has third priority, according to Marine Corps Systems Command. The Corps does not, and will not, euthanize dogs except for severe medical situations, unlike some nasty rumors on the internet would lead people to believe.

Luckily for Hexa and her new owner, her conditions weren’t severe enough to warrant euthanasia, and she’ll live out the rest of her life in luxury, even more so than when she was the kennel princess.

As we celebrate Veterans Day, we celebrate the men and women who have courageously served our nation, but let us not forget the brave ‘Dogs of war’ who have served valiantly by their side since the dawn of combat. As Marines, we say there’s ‘no better friend, no worse enemy.’ We’re devil dogs, and so are our actual dogs.

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