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Man's Best Friend Receives "Honorary Purple Heart" - MWD Lex

(Rickey & I were very happy to play a small part in helping with the adoption of MWD Lex to Fallen K9 Handler Dustin Lee's Family.)

Man's best friend receives top honor

by Staff Sgt. Stacia Zachary 96th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

2/19/2008 - EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Military working dog handlers killed while supporting Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom were honored in a ceremony at the Air Armament Museum Feb. 16. Also remembered are the military working dogs injured and killed in the line of duty.

One dog in particular was the center of attention. Lex, a German shepherd military working dog veteran, received a commemorative Purple Heart medal for the injuries he sustained in combat. Nearly a year ago his handler, Marine Corps Cpl. Dustin J. Lee, was killed while Lex was critically wounded in a mortar attack March 21, 2007, in Fallujah, Iraq. Never leaving his fallen master's side until battlefield medics separated the pair, Lex survived the attack but still has shrapnel in his back. While deployed, Lex's primary role while serving in the Global War on Terror was a bomb sniffer.

Lex was stabilized after several surgeries and returned to Albany, Ga., where he continued to recover from his wounds including 12 weeks of physical therapy. Before the attack, Corporal Lee had plans of adopting Lex after he was retired from his seven years of service. Those plans quickly changed after the mortar attack and Lex instead found himself training new military working dog recruits.

Knowing their late-son's wishes, Corporal Lee's family petitioned for eight months for the right to adopt Lex into their family. With the help Vietnam-era working dog handler John Burnam, the recovering K-9 was finally adopted and sent home to live with Corporal Lee's family in Mississippi just in time for Christmas, Dec. 21, 2007. Lex is the first Marine Corps Military Working Dog to ever be retired into the care of the deceased handler's family.

"To look into Lex's eyes is like seeing Dustin's spirit with him," said Rachel Lee, mother of the late Corporal Lee. "Every day he brings happiness back to our family. He lets us play with him, care for him and love him and in a very big way, we are still able to love our son. Having Lex with us now is the reason I can continue to have faith in this cause. He gives me strength."

The ceremony today served as a tribute to all military working dogs and the crucial role they play in supporting the military police and providing protection for servicemembers.

"These dogs are the greatest tool to have on the front lines," said Tech. Sgt. Gary King, 96th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler. "They save so many unsuspecting lives because they can tell where hidden caches of weapons are or hear an enemy hiding just steps away. They truly are heroes in every sense and I am proud to be a handler."

"Lex has an amazing spirit and he truly loves people," said Kelly Hooker, Discover K9 Dog Training owner in Walton County and coordinator for the military working dog ceremony. "He really is man's best friend and his is a story so many of our dogs share."

Mrs. Hooker and her husband, Staff Sgt. Rickey Hooker, a dog trainer with the 96th SFS, have also adopted a military working dog named Jacco.

Recently, a bill was passed unanimously by both the Senate and House of Representatives and signed by President George W. Bush authorizing the construction of a monument commemorating the military working dogs like Lex.

"It's an honor to have Lex as an icon for working dogs," said Mrs. Lee. "It is important we show respect for these war dogs and today is a wonderful way to acknowledge the devotion these dogs give so fully and faithfully."

Military working dogs have been officially in service since World War II under the Dogs for Defense program and more than 100, 000 have served in the defense of the United States of America.

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