Because of the nature of my work, I spend entirely too much time on airplanes and in airports. Last night was one of those nights and I found myself in the Charlotte airport with about an hour to kill until my 10:30 pm flight home to Asheville.
I found a bar close to my gate and ordered an overpriced beer. The bartender asked for my ID. I would love to claim that was because of my youthful appearance, but since I am more than twice the legal drinking age, and because she asked everyone else who ordered a drink, I am assuming it is just policy at that bar. Getting my beer, I went back to the book (Marley and Me) I had been reading on this series of flights.
A few minutes later, a young man sat down beside me and ordered a drink. The bartender asked for his ID and he showed his Marine Corps ID. We spoke for a couple of minutes about his service and I learned that he and his partner (his phrase) had just completed a tour in Iraq, he was headed to see his “girl” (wife or girlfriend, I do not know) for the Easter weekend, and then was headed to Afghanistan. He was proud of the way citizens of both countries were fighting for their own freedom, confident of the progress that had been made, and obviously proud to be a part of that.
My cell phone interrupted our conversation with a call from home asking if my flights were on-time, etc. After a couple of minutes of talk, I hung up my phone. My background picture on my phone often catches people’s eye since it is of a particularly attractive female:
Yes, that would be Queen Natasha the Evil. The young marine saw the picture and asked about her. I explained about the Herd. He was fascinated and then pulled his own phone out and offered to show his “partner,” Rex (not really the dog’s name, but I am avoiding using both the Marine’s name and the dog’s name for their own safety).
Rex was a beautiful Belgian Malinois and a well-trained member of the U.S. Marine Corps. The young marine also showed me a video on his cell phone of Rex in training, wrestling a “subject” to the ground. I am sure the training subject was happy he was wearing pads because Rex was quite effective. But when the Marine ordered Rex to stop, he did – instantly. The Marine remarked on how well Rex listened to commands and how important that was in a battle situation.
At this point, I explained how Siberian Huskies were notorious for their ability to selectively ignore commands because of their need to overrule a musher if a musher asked them to do something dangerous.
The Marine smiled and then told me a story from Iraq. He and Rex arrived on the scene of a recently exploded IED, those devices that have been so deadly to our troops. He explained that their job was to track the “bad guy” who had planted the IED and Rex was particularly good at that task. So he commanded Rex to track (by the way, the commands are not in English, but in a less common language to prevent someone else from calling out commands).
Rex took 12 steps forwards with the Marine behind him until suddenly Rex went to his belly and refused to move forward. The Marine called Rex back to him, asked him what was wrong, and then told him again, “Track.”
Rex again moved forward to the same point, but again dropped to his belly. The Marine stepped forward and scanned the ground. Hiding just in front of Rex was a secondary IED, set in such a way that anyone – human or dog – tracking the bad guy would set it off. So Rex, in ignoring the command, saved his master and the other Marines behind them ready to hunt the bad guy down.
With that story, we each had finished our wait time and headed off in different directions after I wished him well in Afghanistan.
Today, I am back in my house, surrounded by The Herd (snoozing after their breakfast), safe and comfortable. But I have to take a moment to thank this Marine and his partner, Rex – as well as all of the other military personnel – U.S. and allies – that are out there working hard everyday.
D. K. Wall