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Dog Handler Enjoys Responsibilities

Written By Marine Corps Cpl. Timothy Lenzo
1st Marine Division Public Affairs

TREK NAWA, Afghanistan  – Many children beg their parents for a dog. The floppy ears and wagging tail seem to attract children to man’s best friend. But many parents know that caring for a dog means a lot of responsibility, training and effort.

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Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jeffery Rodriguez stands with his dog, Dharma, April 26, 2012. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Timothy Lenzo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Dog handlers in the Marine Corps not only shoulder that same responsibility — they volunteer for it on top of the responsibilities of being deployed to Afghanistan.

For Marine Corps Cpl. Jeffery Rodriguez, a dog handler with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, those responsibilities are more like a privilege.

Rodriguez said he loves being a dog handler. He knows he’s helping his squad, and the added responsibilities far outweigh the added attention of caring for a dog.

What sets Rodriguez apart from other dog handlers is the personal effort he puts into Dharma, a 4-year-old Labrador retriever.

“He’s the best dog handler I’ve ever seen,” said Marine Corps Sgt. Edward Welsh, Rodriguez’s squad leader. “He’s constantly taking care of the dog and working to make himself and Dharma better.”

Rodriguez, a native of Fayetteville, Ga., knows that a dog handler’s job is more than just patrolling with and feeding the dog. The most important job is ensuring the dog is well prepared for the deployment ahead.

Shortly after he arrived in Afghanistan he built Dharma a new kennel. The kennel, made from discarded pieces of Hesko wall, has a door and a crate for Dharma to sleep in. He used excess cargo netting to cover half of the kennel to shield Dharma from the harsh wind and heat of Afghanistan. Keeping the dogs in shape is vital in an area where temperatures will reach more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

“If a dog gets out of breath in 20 to 30 minutes, they actually become a hindrance to the unit,” explained Marine Corps 1st Lt. Joseph Hoeksema, Rodriguez’s platoon commander. “Dharma is in shape, and [Rodriguez] works her out two to three times a day.”

The bond between a dog handler and his dog is based on trust. If a dog doesn’t trust the handler, it won’t obey commands.

“He tells her to sit there and stay there, [and] she does it,” said Hoeksema, a native of Davenport, Iowa. “It doesn’t matter if we are getting shot at — she’s obeying [Rodriguez].”

Dharma helps Rodriguez to find improvised explosive devices and weapons caches. “I use Dharma to search compounds, or to verify potentially dangerous objects,” Rodriguez said. “She’s like my little guardian angel running around.”

The Marines patrol with Dharma daily, clearing compounds and routes. “Just trusting [Dharma] helps the Marines,” Hoeksema said. “When she goes into a compound and doesn’t find an IED, the Marines are able to walk in confident that there aren’t any IEDs.”

Dharma confirmed two IEDs and some hidden-away weapons while deployed; but beyond her keen nose, she’s made more of an impact on the Marines she protects. Dharma also helps with morale of Marines who are away from their families for several months.

After patrolling, the Marines regularly pet and play with Dharma. They also laugh as she interacts with the local animals; goats and turkeys make an interesting find for a curious dog. The sound of wings flapping and a loud gobble lets the squad know Dharma is up to some good-natured mischief. Rodriguez lets it go for a little bit before calling Dharma back.

“It has been a great experience being a dog handler,” he said. “It’s a great job to have with a lot of responsibility.”

In a couple of weeks, Rodriguez and Dharma will return home from their deployment to Afghanistan. This is Dharma’s first deployment, and it could be Rodriguez’s last. They’ll return on the same flight, but then will be separated. Dharma will be assigned a new dog handler, and Rodriguez will return to his squad.

Though the goodbye will be hard, Rodriguez said, he has loved every minute of being a dog handler. The bond he built with Dharma and the experience was well worth the extra responsibility, he added.

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About Posted by Susan Bainbridge

At age 6, Susan was destined to be a journalist and photographer. In 1980, Susan founded Bainbridge News and The Bainbridge Chronicle Newspaper. Bainbridge News specializes in Military and National Politics, including Military Funerals and Burials and Political Funerals and Burials. Susan has covered the White House, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. She has covered every president from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. Recognized for her versatility, Susan has also covered finance, crime, civil rights events, marches, sports, musical events and more. In 1990, she established Bainbridge Photography, an On-Location photography company. In addition to military and political events, including Military and Political funerals and burials, Bainbridge Photography expanded into covering ALL funerals and burials, receptions, weddings, real estate, inventory, insurance, portrait, head shot, pets, fire and Hazmat. Miss Bainbridge believes in going the extra mile. "My Clients always come first." In 1980, Susan began her career in Washington, D.C., working for WMZQ Radio as a reporter and guest hostess from 1980 to 1985. Intrigued by radio, Susan wanted to write, freelancing for radio, television and print newspapers, including AP, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Northern Virginia Sun, The Press-Republicanand The Bainbridge Chronicle (established by Susan Bainbridge). In 1986, Susan worked at WDCA-TV Channel 20 as a guest hostess for "Eye On Washington." From 1990 to 1994, Susan reported and anchored for "The Arlington Weekly News." Additionally, she produced a segment for the G. Gordon Liddy Radio Show. A prolific writer, while in high school in 1977, Bainbridge wrote an episode for NBC's "Little House on The Prairie" entitled "Laura's Best Friend." Though the show's producers did not use the script then, NBC producers encouraged Susan to pursue a writing and journalism career. Susan is a member of the National Press Club, the National Press Photographer's Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. Susan Bainbridge's recognitions include from former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton, former First Lady Nancy Reagan, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the late actor Lorne Greene, among many others. BAINBRIDGE NEWS was founded in 1980 by Susan Bainbridge (a sixth generation writer), a third generation journalist, a first generation photographer and a fourth generation entrepreneur. She is the first generation to establish a news business. Bainbridge News is dedicated in honor of Miss Bainbridge's late grandfather and idol, Mark S. Watson (The Baltimore Sun editor and war correspondent from 1920 to his death in 1966).

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