Family of fallen Marine Colton Rusk adopts bomb dog

Everything that doesn't fit anywhere else!

Postby cheekymunkee » February 4th, 2011, 2:25 am


I went to High School with this kid's mom. ... -bomb-dog/

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Brady Rusk, 12, grabbed the leash and didn't let go. He held so hard his knuckles turned white as tears streamed down his face.

At the end of the leash was Eli, the black Labrador retriever who was the first Marine at his brother's side when he died.

Marine Pfc. Colton Rusk, 20, was shot Dec. 5 by Taliban gunfire in Afghanistan. Rusk was a machine-gunner and Eli's handler. Inarguably, he was Eli's best friend.

Rusk's parents, Kathy and Darrell Rusk, and his brothers, Cody, 22, and Brady, traveled Thursday to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to pick up the newest addition to the family in an informal ceremony.

More than 800 dogs are kenneled at the base, home of the Military Working Dog program. Hundreds of dogs are deployed by the Marines in Afghanistan to detect hidden bombs.

"It just gave me some comfort knowing that Colton wasn't alone over there," Kathy Rusk said. "We just feel like he was Colton's family, so now he's our family."

Marine Staff Sgt. Jessy Eslick passed the leash to Brady's father, and the boy dropped to his knees and showered Eli with loving pets. Brady acknowledged that he staked his claim on the dog, leaving no doubt among the dozen Marines who came to show their support that he would heed Eslick's charge to honor, love and cherish 4-year-old Eli.

Eslick, part of the working dog program, didn't know Colton Rusk, but he still had to fight back tears as he read his prepared remarks to the family before handing over the leash.

"Colton and Eli were a team," Eslick said. "There is no way of knowing the number of Marines they kept alive. But I can tell you they were heroes. Eli will forever be remembered by the Marine Corps as a dog who brought Marines home to their families."

Animals surrounded Colton as he grew up on the Rusks' 20-acre home site in Orange Grove. The family's German shepherds, blackmouth curs, bulldogs, bluetick hounds – and Labradors like Eli — had free rein in the 150 open acres behind the property, Kathy Rusk said.

When Colton called home, all he talked about was Eli. They were inseparable. Colton violated regulations when he let Eli crawl into his bedding at night instead of placing him in a kennel run.

Eli "worked well, he did his job," Darrell Rusk said. "But whenever he was in camp he was a pain in the butt because he always wanted to crawl in the sleeping bags."

Kathy Rusk has kept Eli close to her heart, literally. She wears a necklace with a photo of Colton's face half grinning and half grimacing as Eli licks his cheek.

"I know Colton passed his love to the dog," Kathy Rusk said.

Eli rose to his hind legs and put his paws on a Marine's chest, his big pink tongue flapping happily. Kathy Rusk said she saw Eli do the same thing to Colton the week before he deployed.

Eli's reunion with the family marked only the second time a military dog handler's animal was returned to the family of a fallen soldier, said retired Air Force Col. Doug Miller, manager of the Military Working Dog program. One other dog also was adopted by its injured handler.

Military dogs generally aren't retired from service until they're deemed physically or mentally unfit to continue, Air Force spokesman Gerry Proctor said. Even then, they may be transferred to law enforcement agencies.

Miller said about 15 military dogs are adopted each month, following a careful protocol that requires mental and physical fitness checks on the dogs and an application process for the adopters.

Kathy Rusk had heard the story of Marine Cpl. Dustin Lee, 20, killed in a rocket attack March 21, 2007, in Fallujah, Iraq. Lee's dog, Lex, was injured in the attack. In December 2007, the Marine Corps agreed to retire Lex early so Lee's parents could adopt him – the first time the military diverted from its usual adoption procedures.

The Rusks said they had to make political connections, enlisting the help of Gov. Rick Perry and former State Rep. Juan Garcia, now an assistant secretary of the Navy, to arrange for Eli's adoption. A Corpus Christi elementary school even helped write letters to Perry on the Rusks' behalf.

Miller and other members of the Military Working Dog program have helped draft federal legislation to make it easier for families like the Rusks to adopt their fallen service members' dogs, but it has yet to be filed in Congress.

Thousands of dollars, years of careful rearing and months of steady training go into each dog. But Miller said the investment is little compared to the value the dogs give a grieving family.

"It's such a small price for us to pay in allowing the family to adopt a dog," he said.

Brady saw the training in action Thursday, watching Eli run, fetch and stop on a dime at an Air Force dog handler's commands before trying it himself.

Military officials say the working dog program is successful, but that makes the job more dangerous for handlers who find themselves targeted more often.

"The enemy is aware that these dogs are finding their stuff," Miller said.

Eli rushed to Colton's side when he was shot, according to family members who spoke with Marines in his unit.

It's impossible to know what Colton's last words or gestures to Eli may have been. They could have been barked commands, gentle praise or friendly pats on that soft furry black sheen.

But it's clear what message was in Colton's heart, a message about the kind of bond only a boy like Brady or a young man like Colton and his dog can know. He once posted that message about Eli on his Facebook page.

"Whatever is mine," Colton wrote, "is his."

Today, that includes a home.

© 2011 Corpus Christi Caller Time

Parents of Fallen U.S. Soldier Adopt Son's Bomb-Sniffing Dog

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The parents of a fallen U.S. soldier are adopting the dog that the military says loyally rushed to the Marine’s aid when he was killed in Afghanistan.
Darrell and Kathy Rusk picked up the dog, Eli, on Thursday. They asked the military if they could adopt the four-year-old black Labrador after their son was fatally shot in December during a gun battle with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Twenty-year-old Pfc. Colton Rusk was the handler for Eli, who was trained to sniff out explosives. The military discharged Eli from service following Rusk’s death.
Military officials say Eli is only the second military dog to be adopted by the family of a slain handler.
The Rusks picked up the dog at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, the training headquarters for all dogs used by the U.S. military. They said they wanted to adopt Eli because their son talked about him constantly, making him seem like part of the family.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Postby CinderDee » February 4th, 2011, 2:39 am

I'm glad they let them adopt the dog. They should do it more often. I imagine it must give the family a lot of comfort.
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Postby iluvk9 » February 4th, 2011, 7:32 am

That is a great photo.

Those poor parents of Marine Colton Rusk....
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