Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog

Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog

4.3 28
by Mike Dowling
     
 

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“In Iraq we put our lives in each other’s hands (and paws) day after day. We took care of each other no matter what. Rex and I have a bond that will last for the rest of our born days. If ever there was a marine who lived up to Semper Fidelis, the motto of the Marine Corps, it’s Rex.”

Deployed to Iraq’s infamous Triangle ofSee more details below

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Overview

“In Iraq we put our lives in each other’s hands (and paws) day after day. We took care of each other no matter what. Rex and I have a bond that will last for the rest of our born days. If ever there was a marine who lived up to Semper Fidelis, the motto of the Marine Corps, it’s Rex.”

Deployed to Iraq’s infamous Triangle of Death in 2004, Sergeant Mike Dowling and his military working dog Rex were part of the first Marine Corps military K9 teams sent to the front lines of combat since Vietnam. It was Rex’s job to sniff out weapons caches, suicide bombers, and IEDs, the devastating explosives that wreaked havoc on troops and civilians alike. It was Mike’s job to lead Rex into the heart of danger time and time again, always trusting Rex to bring them both back alive.

Dowling had turned twenty-five and Rex three just after they arrived in Iraq. Neither of them had any idea what to expect, and no training could fully prepare them for this job. An animal lover since childhood, Dowling had fostered and trained dogs for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and he was determined to serve in the military’s K9 unit after joining the Marines. On their first patrols in Iraq, Rex suffered a seemingly incurable fear of explosions and gunfire, but with Mike at the other end of his leash, Rex gained the courage to perform his duty.

Filled with harrowing tales of knife-edge bomb-detection work, including an extraordinary baptism by fire, Sergeant Rex is a heart-pounding account of how an unbreakable human-canine bond helped Mike and Rex to stay focused on their mission and save countless lives. Dowling takes us into the searing 130-degree heat, the choking dust, and the ever-present threat of violent attack that seemed to permeate Iraq’s streets. We experience Dowling’s visceral fear of walking down an IED-laden alley where dismemberment or death can come with any footstep, only his trusted partner, Rex, by his side.

Loyalty is one of the hallmarks of any good Marine, and nowhere is that quality more evident than in this astonishing account of Mike Dowling and Rex’s wartime experiences. A moving story of how a man and a dog developed complete trust in each other in the face of terrible adversity, Sergeant Rex is an unforgettable tale of sacrifice, courage, and love.

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Editorial Reviews

Lily Burana
While the jargon-heavy dialogue and tight pacing suggest that Sergeant Rex is meant to be a dog book for manly men, it's also a moving portrait of a relationship between battle buddies that transcends gender and species.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Former Marine Dowling and coauthor Lewis recount the adventures and misadventures of Dowling and his German shepherd partner, Rex, as they train for and deploy to Iraq as one of the first military K9 teams to see combat since Vietnam in this touching memoir. Corporal Dowling and Sergeant Rex—military working dogs outrank their handlers by one rank—arrived in Mahmoudiyah, in the dreaded “Triangle of Death” south of Baghdad, in March 2004 tasked “to outwit and defeat” the ubiquitous IEDs, “the single biggest threat facing U.S. forces.” Assigned to the “Warlords” of the Second Battalion, Second Marines, they spent the next seven months searching roadsides and buildings for explosives. It was dangerous and often terrifying work. The Marines quickly came to adore Rex not only because he saved lives sniffing out IED-making materials but also because he proved to be “the greatest stress reliever of all.” Dowling and Rex are inseparable and fiercely protective of each other, and the authors enhance our understanding of the special bond between man and man’s best friend by weaving the backstory of their partnership throughout the narrative. Despite some tense moments and close calls, this deeply affecting tale of courage and devotion in the cauldron of war has a happy ending. (Dec.)
From the Publisher
"The best kind of nonfiction—an impossible-to-put-down true life story." —San Francisco Chronicle
Library Journal
Tasked with sniffing out booby traps, suicide bomber belts, and IEDs, Rex is the long-serving canine in the U.S. Marine Corps. The aptly named German Shepherd was paired with Sergeant Dowling in 2004 and sent to Iraq as part of the first Military Working Dog (K9) Team seeing action since Vietnam. Dowling details their training, their missions, and, most important, their everlasting bond. With more attention now being paid to military dogs—various animal rights groups, for instance, have worked to pair retired dogs with welcoming families—this book should attract a considerable audience.
Kirkus Reviews
Straightforward telling of an unusual wartime narrative: the reintroduction of the Marines' Military Working Dog (MWD) teams to frontline combat for the first time since Vietnam. With the assistance of Lewis (co-author: Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse, 2011, etc.), Dowling, who deployed to Iraq in 2004 with a German shepherd named Rex, notes that he and several others were "guinea pigs…we're to learn how to take K9 units into the heart of war once again." Upon arrival at the Marine base in the "Triangle of Death," the author was dismayed to discover the dangerous, shifting nature of the Iraq war's early years. Although commanders were initially bemused by the MWD teams, Dowling and Rex soon found themselves on combat patrols, where the author had to rely on the subtleties of Rex's tracking abilities, but also protect him from gunfire and other hazards. Adding to the tension of the wartime narrative, Dowling breaks with chronology to look back at his working-class youth and the family issues that compelled him to excel in the military. He also examines the intricate training program for the dogs, underscoring the discipline involved in this arcane specialty and the bond between soldier and dog. While there are frequent moments of emotional button-pushing (including many imagined "observations" from Rex), Dowling's approach offers a clear-headed view of the improvisational nature of combat in Iraq, and the brutal difficulties with which American military personnel contended. Fortunately, battle-hardened Marines quickly nicknamed the dog "Sexy Rexy" and adopted Dowling's aggressive approach to the hazardous missions. A unique testimonial from today's professional, highly specialized military, with a clear extra appeal to animal lovers.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781451635980
Publisher:
Atria Books
Publication date:
12/13/2011
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
144,963
File size:
42 MB
Note:
This product may take a few minutes to download.

Read an Excerpt


Prologue

WE START THE WALK.

IED Alley stretches before us, a deserted length of rubble-strewn, sunbaked dirt. To the uninitiated, there’s nothing obvious here that screams out violence and danger. To me, gazing down IED Alley is like peering into the very jaws of hell.

On either side of the route are the broken mounds of shattered earth and the craters where roadside bombs have blown themselves—and all too often their targets—to smithereens. But luckily, typically, Rex, my search dog, is out front alone and unperturbed, eager to sniff out the bombs.

I’ve felt fear every day that we’ve led these patrols. It’s been my constant companion here in Iraq. But this morning, the terror had me gripped as never before.

It was Rex who gave me the strength to get up and to carry on. He sent me one look—Come on, partner, we can do this; you got me by your side—and I knew then that I had to raise my game to the level of my dog.

I look to my fellow marines as my own brothers, and Rex and I are tasked with keeping them safe from the insurgents’ bombs out here. Having my courageous, crazy, stubborn, loyal, dedicated, devilishly handsome dog by my side helps me deal with the enormous stress of that responsibility.

I gaze down IED Alley and give Rex the command, the magic words: “Seek. . . Seek. . . Seek. . .” But right now they’re rasping out from a throat that’s dry and constricted with fear.

In response, Rex is off. His nose starts going like a suction pump: slurp, slurp, slurp. He’s dropped his muzzle low to the ground, and he’s vacuuming up the scent just inches off the dirt. His tail’s horizontal behind him, the end flicked up just a fraction, as his head sweeps from side to side.

I’d know that posture anywhere: Here I am on the search, and I’m loving it. Rex always has loved sniffing out the bombs. It’s like he was born to do this work. From the earliest days of training he was one of the few and the proud—an unbeatable Marine Corps arms- and explosives-detection dog.

I’m a couple of paces behind him, his lead looped around my left hand. My M16 assault rifle is slung over my back on its sling, and I’m gripping my Beretta M9 pistol in my right hand. My rifle’s too long and unwieldy to use much when searching with my dog.

If Rex steps on an improvised explosive device, we’re both as good as done for. But we’ve been ordered to clear IED Alley so our patrol can pass through it, and the two of us out front on foot is the only way to do it.

To Rex, clearing the route of death is all a fantastic game. I’ve shown him a flash of his rubber ball—his reward—and he knows if he finds the target scent he gets to play with it. It’s only me who’s racked with this visceral, heart-stopping fear, fear that the next step Rex’s paws take may be his, and my, last.

Rex’s whole focus is his sense of smell now, and that’s how he’s navigating. He’s moving through a world defined by scent. He’s tracking smells on the hot, dusty air, his footfalls dictated by the direction those odors are coming from. He lifts his head now and then to check on his location—that he’s not about to walk into a wall or tumble into a ditch.

We’re a third of the way down IED Alley. My pulse is thumping like a jackhammer. Every time Rex raises a paw and places it onto the baking-hot earth, I tense for the blast. But I force myself to keep moving forward with him, and the sweat’s pouring off me in buckets.

It’s shortly after first light, yet already the temperature out here must be pushing 100 degrees. If it’s this hot for me, how must it be for Rex, all wrapped up in his thick, shaggy, charcoal-brown coat of fur? But nothing seems to faze my dog, not even the burning Iraqi sun that’s beating down on his head and shoulders.

I see Rex approaching a small patch of dirt ahead of us that looks as if it might recently have been disturbed. The difference in this area is minimal, just a slightly different color from the earth all around it, as if it’s been dug up and tamped down again.

An unusual area of terrain is one of the signs that an IED may be buried there. I’m hyperalert, and my threat radar is working overtime. I try to work out what might lie beneath that patch of dirt, because I can’t let Rex go walking right over it. Not for the first time since we deployed to Iraq, I curse the fact that I don’t have X-ray vision, that I can’t see the bombs lying just below earth’s surface.

Rex pauses just a few paces short of that patch of dirt. His nostrils flare, and suddenly he’s sucking in great lungfuls of air. He turns his head this way and that, sampling the scent, until he’s got his nose pressed up tight against the hot mud of the earth.

Rex snuffles hard a good few times, then glances back at me. His sparkling amber eyes are wide with the thrill of the search. There’s an unspoken bond between us. I can read his every expression, and I figure I can pretty much read his mind.

This look means: Hey, I really think I’m onto something here.

“Easy, boy, careful,” I whisper at him. “Easy does it, Rexy. What you think you got there, boy?”

He moves ahead a foot or so until he’s level with the patch of dirt. His muzzle swings left and right, before he’s staring right at it. He pokes his snout forward, until he’s sniffing at the very surface of that disturbed area.

His entire body goes rigid. He gives me a quick, intense, piercing look: Freakin’ hell, get in here and check this out!

I feel my blood run cold. Rex never false responds—signaling that he’s found something when actually he hasn’t. There’s some kind of explosive device buried right in front of my dog’s nose, of that I am 100 percent certain.

I don’t know why I’m sure—it can only be in response to the unspoken message that’s flashed between Rex and me—but I lunge forward, and with one hand I grab his collar and haul him backward.

In my mind’s eye I can picture a gleeful Iraqi insurgent hunched over a detonator device, punching the firing pin, and hoping to blow the shaggy dog and his handler into shreds of flesh and gore.

With my free hand I reach for my radio so I can send out an alert to the rest of the patrol strung out behind us. I press the Send button and yell out a warning: “There’s a—”

My words are lost in this deafening roar of an explosion. I hit the dirt and elbow myself forward and dive on top of Rex, to shield him from the blast. But an instant later I sense that it’s not the bomb in front of us that’s gone off. If it were, we’d both be dead by now.

Just to the east of us above the palm trees, a massive plume of smoke and debris is fisting into the sky. An IED has been triggered there, to one side of our road.

The harsh, juddering crackle of gunfire thunders out of the smoke and dust as the insurgents unleash a barrage of fire in a follow-up attack. I roll across Rex, getting my body between him and the pounding gunfire.

I’m wearing body armor; Rex isn’t. I’m not about to let anyone shoot my best buddy. I wrap all six feet of me around him and pull his thick fur in tight against me.

As I hold him there, I whisper into his ear: “It’s okay, boy, it’s okay. It’s all gonna be all right. . . .”

© 2011 Mike Dowling

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"The best kind of nonfiction — an impossible-to-put-down true life story."

—San Francisco Chronicle

“Briskly written. . . a moving portrait of a relationship between battle buddies that transcends gender and species.”

Washington Post

“This is a truly heartwarming and moving story.” —Hollywood Reporter

“Packed with colorful characters and dramatic incidents, Sergeant Rex is a moving story of true grit cast seamlessly amidst tough realism, rich, insightful detail and mutual respect.” —Seattle Kennel Club

“A first-rate buddy story from the front lines of the Iraq war.”

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