Sergeant Rex and the Marines who love him enlivened the Country Store at Camp Pendleton-Mainside on Saturday. Mike Dowling, who authored the book Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between A Marine and His Military Working Dog, signed copies and talked with patrons about their dogs, his and Rex’s service in Iraq and the life of a dog handler.
The cover of the book greeted shoppers with a photo of a German shepherd, eyes bright and ears alert, ensconced in the hatch of an armored vehicle. “I love dogs!” a young Marine said when she saw the display. She loved seeing Rex himself even more.
Rex stayed behind the signing table on the floor, slobbered on a red Kong and growled whenever Cpl JT Overland, his current and twelfth handler, nudged it with his foot. Most everyone wanted to pet the big furry dog, but Rex is a working dog still. No hugs from anyone other than his handler. No outside food treats such as peanut butter in the Kong-- just the red toy and the loyalty to and from the Marine who works, plays and even sleeps with him. Cpl Overland assured the Marines and their families, “He’s never bitten anyone he wasn’t supposed to--yet.” The watchers laughed and backed up.
Dogs suffer from PTSD, too. So Rex, the oldest military working dog at Camp Pendleton won’t be deploying again. At ten years old, he’s already served three combat tours. He's been injured by an IED he alerted his handler Meagan Levy to but they were unable to get away from it before it exploded. Both received Purple Hearts. But Rex serves still with the Camp Pendleton SRT. He patrols with Cpl Overland on drug interdiction, security for VIP events such as at the Tim McGraw concert, and apprehending suspects who run.
Vincent Amato, who trained with Mike Dowling at Camp Pendleton with the dogs before Mike’s deployment with Rex, came with his young son. He just returned from Afghanistan and is deploying again in February. His MOS has changed, but the deep bond he shares with his friend has not. Another Marine with his wife and a baby in a stroller spoke quietly with Mike about Fallujah, Ramadi and Mahmoudiyah, familiar territory for both. A retired couple visiting from Hawaii happened in and stayed to watch and, take pictures with Rex and the author.
The eight foot tall Energizer’s Bunny drum didn’t bother Rex, though he growled at the adult-size M&M mascot. He stood up for photos, focusing on the drool-covered Kong held up behind the camera before he lost patience at being tempted and barked and barked for its return. By 1 pm he laid on his side on the cool floor. Good dog. Job well done.
Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between A Marine and His Military Working Dog is a moving story of how a man and his dog developed complete trust in each other in the face of terrible adversity. It's published by Simon and Schuster and available at your local bookstore and on Amazon beginning December 13th 2011.
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