Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dragon, the Marine Veteran war dog

I received a fun request a few weeks ago. The following story is about Dragon, a dog who was adopted by Marines during the Iraq war, came back to the US with the troops. Today he lives a peaceful retirement as a happy house pet in Pensacola Florida. I was proud to donate this painting in his honor for his owners. 

Mischievous recruit dogging Marines on flight line
Submitted by: MCB Camp Pendleton
Story by Cpl. Matthew S. Richards
Reprinted from this story:

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Dragon isn't the most disciplined member of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268. He's been known to steal food. He runs around Camp Pendleton's flight line like he owns the place. And he can't maintain his bearing, always bowing his head and folding his ears back. Get him really excited and he'll even leave a puddle on the floor.

But his Marines love him. It's hard not to. The lovable mutt is just that -- a stray the squadron's Marines came to call their own during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Dragon has migrated from the streets of Kuwait to the squadron's hangars and he's never looked more at home.

His breed- "Persian camel shepherd," quipped Capt. Matt G. Robinson, his unofficial caretaker, now the quality assurance officer for Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (Training) 164. Ten-month-old Dragon took the name from the squadron that adopted him in Ali Al Saleem, Kuwait, more than nine months ago.

"We found him hanging around the British tents," Cpl. Shaun Kelly, a crew chief for HMM-268, said while playfully scratching Dragon's head.

The squadron dubbed the adoptee Dragon after their mascot, a giant red dragon.

"It was two weeks before everyone entered Iraq," Robinson explained. "He was a malnourished tiny thing and he had been beaten and abused. He had a huge gash on top of his head."

Dragon wandered around the tents, begging and stealing scraps. It's a habit he's had a tough time breaking. Robinson is still tugging Dragon by the leash away from some of the Marines' lunches.

The Marines immediately took a liking to the pup and began to nurse him back to health.

"We fed him parts of (Meals Ready-to-Eat) at first; his big thing was peanut butter," said Robinson, who was HMM-268's officer-in-charge of the flight line during OIF. "After the first couple of meals, he slept for five days straight.

"We were worried about him," he said. "We didn't think he would make it."

Dragon, retired and enjoying life
Dragon's new family joked around about how he first behaved under their care. "For the first month he would bury half his food in the sand," Kelly said. "Then after we fed him enough, he forgot about that and just ate every bit."

Dragon soon became accustomed to the flight line. The constant whine of the engines and chopping of the rotor blades soothed him to sleep.

"At first he was scared of the (CH-46s)," said Staff Sgt. Marcus A. Gomillion, maintenance control chief.

He said the dog learned to live with the helicopter noise without fear of the noise.

The dog was a natural Wing Marine, a fact made apparent after his arrival at Los Angeles International Airport.

"It was funny, because after my wife (Bethany) picked him up at LAX and took him out of the kennel, he ran right to the flight line where the planes were," Robinson said. "She had to chase him down."

Dragon was all fun and games, but the lengthy process to bring him into the Unites States wasn't. He had to be on a civilian airliner at a cost of more than $2,100.

"We're still paying for the cost to ship him from Iraq," Robinson said. "My wife had to hunt down the only veterinarian in Kuwait City, and (she) really went out of her way to help us out."

The Robinsons weren't the only ones to pitch in for Dragon's journey home. More than $1,100 came pouring in from Marines and their families to keep the pup with the squadron.

Dragon was quarantined after he got all his required shots. Then all his paperwork was checked and double- checked at U.S. Customs in Los Angeles.

"After we had been through so much with him, I knew there was no way we'd leave this guy behind," Robinson said.

After all, to his Marines, he's part of their family ?much to the chagrin of some in the squadron. Mail even seemed more regular for Dragon than for the Marines.

"That dog would get packages before I would," Gomillion said. "Everybody loved him."

Dragon gave as much as he got, too.

"He was a definite help through hard times, because we lost some Marines out there," Robinson said. "He was something the Marines didn't have out there. He was something they grew attached to and took care of."

Dragon's not going anywhere soon either. Marines at HMM-268 made him part of their family. He even has his own Service Record Book.

"When he sees the uniforms he starts going crazy," Robinson said. "The flight suits or the cammies ... he loves being around Marines."

Just because the squadron treats him like part of the Marine family doesn't mean he's completely given up his wily ways. The little pup is mischievous, even around Robinson at home.

"One time I was cooking hamburgers and I had five out in a glass bowl on our table," he said. "I turned around and when I looked back there were only two left. The bowl hadn't moved at all."

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.