Best Defense

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: RIP MWDs Rony, Lex, Nisan, Bino, and Bastar

By Rebecca Frankel Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent There’s been a lot of exciting war-dog news this month — Sgt. Rex’s adoption moving forward, for one — but as March comes to a close, not all recent tidings have been so cheery. No fewer than five military working dogs passed away this month (I sincerely ...

US. Airforce
US. Airforce

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

There’s been a lot of exciting war-dog news this month — Sgt. Rex’s adoption moving forward, for one — but as March comes to a close, not all recent tidings have been so cheery. No fewer than five military working dogs passed away this month (I sincerely hope that aren’t any others to add to this list). Each served valiantly in his own way, whether down range or during retirement, and so it feels only right to pay tribute not just to one lost war dog, but to all of them. This week’s post may be a lengthy one though the space has certainly been earned.

Rony:

On March 16, a large crowd gathered in the chapel at Hurlburt Field AFB in Florida to pay respects to MWD Rony who, according to Master Sgt. James Miller, was not just your average dog or average military working dog. [And one who] will never be forgotten.”

Rony’s illustrious seven-year career began in 2004 when he was two years old. After pairing up with Staff Sgt. Robert Calhoun in 2009, the two provided “force protection at Hurlburt Field to countless combat foot patrols and air assault missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. [Rony’s] last tour to Kandahar, Afghanistan, included more than 1,000 hours outside the wire.”

Calhoun says his partner, who succumbed to “cancer and internal bleeding” earlier this month, was so good at his job that he was a “top-demand asset” on their missions in Afghanistan. When they were hit with enemy fire, Rony held ground alongside him and together they received a bronze star. “Rony saved my life when we went into an abandoned compound, and he found a 155-round before I stepped on the pressure plate … He’s the reason — he brought us home.”

Calhoun delivered an eloquent eulogy on behalf of his beloved canine partner, describing the vet visit that unexpectedly brought the pair to their final moments together.

I had the honor of standing by his side, holding his paw, softly sighing as his heart stopped beating … I’ll always cherish the moments we had together and know for a moment in time we were untouchable. I’d say this to Rony, F547: Thank you for your commitment, loyalty and trust. You will always be in my heart, and I will always love you. Rest in peace, my little warrior.”

Lex

In December 2010 we wrote about Lex, the first MWD to be adopted by the family of his fallen handler, 20-year-old Cpl. Dustin Lee. It was just five years ago in March 2007 when Cpl. Lee was fatally wounded in Iraq after a “73 mm” rocket attack. Lex who was hit with shrapnel spray, was also seriously wounded, but he did not leave Lee’s side until their fellow Marines got to them. 

The Lee family was unrelenting in their campaign to bring Lex home and in the years since, in their resolve to rehabilitate the new family member — Lex’s wounds (50 shrapnel pieces lodged in his body), the resulting surgeries, and therapy were extensive — as was their drive to bring Dustin and Lex’s story to those who might benefit most. When Lex wasn’t receiving hydro-therapy, he was on the road visiting veterans and inspiring the local community in his new home state of Mississippi. One such Lex loyalist is sixth grader, Bentley Burns who not only made him the subject of her American Military Hero school project, but wrote a story about him for a local paper, The Byram Banner, in which she refers to Lex as “an awesome dog.”

Lex died just last week, succumbing finally to an “aggressive cancer.” It’s a tremendous loss for the family as well as the community they’ve built around Lex. As Lee’s mother, Rachel, told reporters this week, “Besides the obvious of being able to touch something Dustin touched, it goes beyond.”

Photo: Angels for Lex

Nisan

Last week fellow servicemen and women of Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio held a memorial service for Nisan, a German shepherd, who’d been stationed there since the beginning of his MWD career. According to reports, Nisan was euthanized in early March because of “old age and ailments.”

Nisan was a dual-purpose dog, which means he was a patrol dog who was also trained to find narcotics. During his eight-year career he uncovered more than “nine kilograms of narcotics, resulting in at least 500 arrests” and, in 2009, deployed to Iraq.

The tribute included “a bugler playing “Taps,” a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace” and the firing of a 21-gun salute.” Nisan’s most recent handler, Staff Sgt. Seth Dale, also spoke.

“He was my partner, and my protector, and my family,” Dale said. “[Nisan] was also very intuitive in his nature. If I was having less than a favorable day or week, and was a little down, he would let me know he was there for me.”

Photo: From Nisan’s AFB

Bino & Bastar          

Fourteen-year-old Bino was a Dutch shepherd who served in Iraq and on the U.S.-Mexico border. A patrol and detection dog, he spent the majority of his career working out of Fort Gordon, Georgia, but the end of his life was devoted to helping “wounded Soldiers at Ft. Bliss learn to navigate stores, elevators and other busy locations.”

And while I couldn’t find any reported news of this anywhere in media, the family that adopted MWD Bastar, a retired MWD, posted news of his death this month on Facebook. He was 16 years old.

Photo: Facebook

Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently working on a book about military working dogs to be published by Free Press.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1

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