Online Exclusives — 12 November 2013
Kalama Hines
Features Editor

11,575 hours, the equivalent of more than 482 – almost a year and a half.  That is the amount of time that, Marine Corps service dog, Sergeant Rex spent searching for explosives.

One of the speakers present at LPC’s 7th Annual Event Honoring Veterans Day was retired Marine Corps Sergeant Mike Dowling.  Dowling was the Military Police Officer (MP) who spent four years as Rex’s handler.

The weapons/explosives-sniffing German Sheppard, lovingly dubbed “Sexy Rexy,” along with Dowling, was on of the first K9 teams sent to the front lines during Gulf War Era I.  The number of lives that the German saved cannot be exactly determined.   But while the average career of a U.S. service dog is six years, Rex commit 10 years to his successful tenure.

“Only the top few percent make it (into the military),” said Dowling, “We are dealing with the most intelligent and the most athletic dogs in the world.”

Dowling was born in Richmond, and was raised in a family that trained guide dogs.  So when he discovered that the Marine Corps had soldiers charged with training and handling service dogs, he knew it was the job for him.  This position in the military had been somewhat quiet and controlled since the Vietnam War.

During the Vietnam War, more than 10,000 service dogs were sent into the front lines, and after saving thousands of lives, only 206 dogs were brought home.

“The dogs in World War II and Korea were brought home,” said Dowling, “the dogs of Vietnam were not, they were left there.”

According to Dowling, the affects of improvised explosive devises (I.E.D.s), or homemade bombs, were so great in the Middle East that the military had to make drastic changes.  This led to Dowling and Rex, along with several other “Dog Teams,” were sent to the front lines for the first time since the Vietnam War.

“It is extremely hard to become a dog handler,” said Dowling, “out of every class of 60 to 65 (MPs) only two become handlers.  So I became the honor graduate just so I could become a handler.”

Dowling told a touching story about their first mission, while in Iraq; the story of a successful raid, without any previous training, and through the adversity of wild dogs and Rex’s reactions to the commands of his rookie handler.  Rex’s success, Dowling attributes to the incredible understanding of dogs, the intelligence to understand that the situation.

“I was so incredibly proud of Rex,” said Dowling, “because of how he performed and how he handled himself.”

After four successful years of service, Dowling retired, but Rex continued his career with a new handler.

A few years later, while with his new handler corporal Megan Leavey, Rex received injuries after an explosion.  Both handler and dog survived and make full recoveries, but it was event that would lead to Dowling withdrawing from the race to adopt Rex.

Dowling allowed Leavey to adopt Rex without interference from him because, as he says, injured soldiers should stay together.

One year later, in Dec. 2012, Sergeant Rex passed away.

The contributions of Rex, along with so many other service dogs provided the means to the creation of memorials for working dogs; memorials like the “Always Faithful” war dog memorial in Guam.

As of now, Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas will continue to seek out the best of the best in particular canine breads, and train said dogs to be the next military heroes.

All while soldiers like Dowling will wait to be paired with one of those elite few.

“I went in (to the Marines Corps) on an open contract,” said Dowling, “it was the worst and dumbest thing you can do.  What that means is that the military chooses your job for you.  But it ended up being the biggest blessing in disguise.”

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