- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Always Faithful, a documentary film that traces the path of five Marine dog handlers from their training through to their deployments, will premiere this Sunday in the greater DC area as part of the 2013 GI Film Festival.
With this feature-length documentary, director Harris Done and producer James Moll, focus on each handler’s story with a straight-to-the-camera interview style that includes photos and footage from combat theater. One of the most interesting aspects about this documentary that I haven’t seen delved into in great detail elsewhere is the application process for becoming a handler. It has varied based on the “urgent need” for handlers in recent years, but becoming a Marine Corps dog handler is a distinctly competitive pursuit. At the end of the test taking and the essay writing, the Marines applying for this job have to face a review board — a daunting and nerve-wracking experience which Done has captured on film.
Done has long been a war-dog enthusiast. In 2009 he made War Dogs of the Pacific, a documentary about WWII military dog handlers. (In this trailer you get a taste of the great archival footage.) The timing of this film was crucial as all but one or two of the WWII veterans he interviewed have since passed away. Done’s ties to these men clearly ran deep; when Bruce Wellington, a Brooklyn native who served as a messenger dog handler, died, Done gave a eulogy at the funeral. It was that connection which propelled him to pursue the storyline of the “war-dog handler” into modern day.
It’s a rare experience to have interviewed K9 handlers across generations as Done has — men who went to war in the 1940s as well as men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan during the last decade. But when it comes to the core of this job, Done found that “some things never change.”
After a while Done began to notice that all the handlers he interviewed “would use the exact same phrases” when they talked about what it took to bring a dog into war. “I just realized that with any kind of working dog, they have that intense bond.”
DC moviegoers can purchase tickets here. (There are multiple listings for Sunday show times, so don’t give up if you have to scroll down some.) For everyone else, Always Faithful will soon be available for purchase on iTunes.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.