Injured vet wants custody of wounded bomb dog
BLACK FOREST, Colo. (AP) – Rex, a 5-year-old German shepherd, romps through a Black Forest house, sniffing out treats or fetching toys from his master, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jamie Dana.It’s not the same as sniffing bombs, but at least the two are together.For now.It will take an act of Congress for the wounded dog handler and the military working dog to remain together.It is up to lawmakers to decide whether Dana, 26, can adopt her canine partner as a pet, retiring him in his prime from military service, or send him back to active duty with another handler.In June, a Humvee they were riding in was struck by a bomb in Iraq.”He was sitting right beside me,” said Dana, who returned to Colorado Springs last week after five months of recuperation from injuries, including a broken pelvis, fractured spine, collapsed lung and concussion.The three others in the Humvee and Rex had minor wounds.”Rex had a burn on his nose, a bump on his head and a scratch on his foot,” she said. Rex remains on convalescent leave from the Air Force, a status officials say is meant to help his handler’s recovery.
Dana returned from leave on Thursday for desk duty with the 21st Security Forces Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base. She figures her strenuous dog-handling days are over.”I don’t think I’ll ever get back to where I was,” she said. “My legs are too weak. I have nerve damage.”A scar jags across her chin. She tires easily. She uses a cane.Part of healingHer campaign to get custody of Rex started while she was flat on her back at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.Federal law stands in the way. The law says the Air Force cannot allow her to take the combat dog home until the animal is too old to be useful.Dana, a Pennsylvania native, got the support of Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who is trying to attach a provision to a defense-spending bill that would allow Rex’s adoption. The measure is expected to emerge from a conference committee this month and faces votes in both chambers.Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., said he supports it.”This lady has done so much for her country, and this is very little that her country can do for her to say thank you,” he said in a statement Friday.
Dana also has military backing, said Lt. Tracy Giles, spokesman for the 21st Space Wing at Peterson.”The Air Force supports Jamie 100 percent in adopting this dog,” Giles said. “The dog belongs to the military and still has a few good years in it, but they’re willing to make an exception. It is a miracle she is alive.”Maj. Paul Cairney, Dana’s squadron commander, considers Rex “part of Jamie’s healing process.””Dogs are a valuable resource,” Cairney said, “but the Air Force believes it is still a good investment for Jamie to have him.”Search-and-rescue future? Dana, a farm girl, joined the Air Force after high school and teamed up with Rex at Peterson three years ago. Her first dog, a retirement age canine, trained her.”He showed me how things were done,” she said.Rex was a problem child.”He was a puppy. It was slow going with Rex. He likes to have fun. It took a lot of work for him to get him to pay attention,” she said. “We’ve been buddies.”
Dana and Rex went to Pakistan in 2004 and Iraq in May of this year.”I begged to go to Iraq,” she said. “I’d go back there again.”Although Dana’s injuries were critical, her first concern after the explosion was the welfare of her dog, who initially was presumed dead.After waking from a drug-induced coma three weeks later at Walter Reed, she learned Rex was alive.”He jumped up and licked me and got tangled in my IV lines,” she said.She completed her last three classes for her college degree in the hospital. She wants to be a veterinarian – and intends to put Rex to work if she gets custody.”I’d like to train him in search-and-rescue,” she said. “He is happy to find people. He doesn’t like to bite them.”This story from the Colorado Springs Gazette, via the Associated Press. Vail, Colorado