Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Partner Dusty

Editor's Note: This tribute to 20-year-old Iraq war casualty Dustin Lee of Quitman, Miss., and his canine partner, Lex, was authored by John Burnam, founder of the National Working Dog Memorial Project in Washington, D.C. and author of "Dog Tags of Courage" and "A Soldier’s Best Friends"

I’m a U.S. Marine and the primary element of a two-member team trained to hunt and locate explosives. My partner and I trained as a team for many months honing our expertise to save American lives in the War on Terrorism in Iraq .

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, 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’ve been fortunate to be declared physically unable to perform in a combat zone.

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 moaned a sigh of grief that he would only hear and understand.

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 . There is something very wrong with this picture!

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 of retirement age and I want to spend the rest of my life with the Lee family. It’s where I now belong!
So please help the Lee family adopt me by signing a petition at:

Always Faithful,

Lex (,
German Shepherd Dog
Military Working Dog
U.S. Marine Corps