The Marine Corps' dogs are always faithful, too

Raleigh News & ObserverApril 25, 2010 

RALEIGH, N.C. _ The story of Lex is a dog tale with a different twist.

Lex is a 9-year-old German shepherd who was a U.S. Marine stationed in Iraq as part of a two-member team trained to locate explosives.

On March 21, 2007, in Fallujah, Lex and his handler, 20-year-old Corp. Dustin Jerome Lee of Quitman, Miss., were on patrol when an enemy rocket-propelled grenade exploded nearby. Lex, who received several shrapnel wounds, had to be dragged away from his master's dead body by corpsmen who were trying to treat Lee.

Lex spent 12 weeks recovering from his wounds at Camp Lejeune, N.C., although vets didn't remove one piece of shrapnel for fear of damaging his spine. Lex, who was awarded a Purple Heart, was declared physically unable to return to a combat zone and was shipped to a Marine base in Albany, Ga. where dogs are trained.

Corporal Lee's parents began an effort to adopt Lex because he'd been so much a part of their son's life. Their son had grown up loving dogs, and in Iraq he'd often slept with Lex at his side. They also wanted to provide a happy home for Lex in his remaining years.

Lex, however, still had two years of service left and the armed forces rarely release military dogs prior to their scheduled retirements. Even after an online petition campaign, the Marines didn't budge.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., heard about the Lee family's plight and contacted them. After pulling some strings in the Marine Corps, especially with the help of Marine Gen. Mike Regner, Lex headed toward retirement in Mississippi.

Lex adjusted to civilian life just fine. Rachel Lee, a schoolteacher, and her husband, Jerome, an investigator for the Mississippi Highway Patrol, say Lex has been a welcome addition.

But even as Lex enjoyed civilian life, the Lees wanted to share him with his former Leathernecks.

So Jones arranged, with the help of the Humane Society, to have the Lees and Lex visit wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital near Washington earlier this month.

The congressman, who accompanied the Lees and Lex on the visit, could hardly keep his voice from quavering as he described it.

As you might imagine, Lex was a big hit.

"Lex is a Marine," Rachel Lee said. "He is one of them. They loved him. They were able to pet him. He put a smile on their face."

Oh, one other thing. The dog kennel at the Marine Corps base in Albany was named in honor of Corporal Lee last month.

Marine Lex was in attendance, of course.

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