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Monday, December 24, 2007

Stories to Warm the Holiday Season

In the spirit of Christmas, I’m going to take a short break from presidential politics, and share a pair of stories that inspired me this year.  They are stories about two members of Congress, from different political parties, who both helped American families remember their loved ones and celebrate the human-animal bond.

An eight-year-old German shepherd named Lex had been serving in the Marine Corps, living and working side-by-side with his human partner, a 20-year-old corporal named Dustin Jerome Lee, from Quitman, Miss.  When Dustin was killed by a mortar attack in Fallujah, Iraq, earlier this year, Lex—also injured—had to be pulled away whimpering from the young marine. 

Dustin’s family knew what a strong bond had developed between the slain marine and his canine partner, and they wanted to adopt Lex. But the military said that the bomb-sniffing dog still had two years of service left. The Lee family lobbied the military for months and launched an Internet petition. Finally, they were successful, thanks to the intervention of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, Jr. (R-N.C.), who went directly to the Marine Corps’ top brass. 

Lex joined the Lee family in Mississippi last week, and it’s the first time a military dog has ever been given early retirement to be adopted by someone other than the dog’s handler. As Congressman Jones said, “The way I look at this, dogs are being trained every day to be a part of the armed forces. This family gave their son for their country. This is a small gift back to them.”

Hero is welcomed home
Hero is welcomed home by Rep. Paul Hodes (left),
Brittney Murray and DHL employees.

A remarkably similar story took place earlier in the year, when 22-year-old Justin Rollins, an Army specialist from Newport, N.H., rescued a stray puppy from the streets outside an Iraqi police station in Samarra.  Justin was killed the next day by a roadside bomb.  But the night before he died, he called his family and told them about the puppy, named Hero, and that he wanted to bring her home. 

After Justin was killed, his fiancée, Brittney Murray, contacted U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) and asked for his help.  Hodes had to find a way to locate a puppy in a war zone, and he negotiated with the 82nd Airborne Division, the Iraqi Embassy, U.S. Customs, the cargo company DHL, and other military officials to obtain the permission and transportation necessary to bring Hero back to New Hampshire.

As Congressman Hodes said, “Given the sacrifice that the Rollins’ made for our country, the least we can do for them is cut some red tape and provide them with this bit of comfort.” The effort was successful, and Hero arrived in New Hampshire this May.

Thank you to Congressman Jones and Congressman Hodes for recognizing the importance of the comfort and joy that animals bring to our lives, and for working to bring some of this comfort and joy to families who lost a loved one overseas.  Happy holidays to all of you, and best wishes for the New Year.

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