MCAS Beaufort --
Despite it being six years after the death of Sgt. Joshua Ashley, his mother, Tammie Ashley, while surrounded by friends and family, stood face to face with her son’s friend and mentor Gunnery Sgt. Justin Boyer’s for his promotion aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island July 2. This was the second time Tammie had promoted Boyer since the passing of her son.
This ceremony was just one reason Tammie Ashley flew across the country from Rancho Cucamonga, California. Another reason, and perhaps the strongest reason, was the bond of family and the memory of her son.
"The bond of brotherhood within the military working dog community is like no other," Tammie said. "After Josh passed away in 2012, Frank and a good percentage of the Marines in the unit who knew Josh, have always been there for me. I know that gold star moms in other branches don’t have the relationship that I have with the Marines. They are family and a lot of them call me mom."
Sgt. Joshua Ashley was killed in action in support of Operation Enduring Freedom serving as a MWD Handler with Marine Corps Special Operations Command. His K-9 Sirius survived and was later adopted by Tammie.
"For me, being able to adopt Sirius is like having a piece of Josh," she said. "I know Josh never had any children, but I know how much Josh loved Sirius."
According to retired master sergeant, Frank Ginn, that special connection within the MWD community extends to the families and friends of those Marines, and especially to the family of a Marine who made the ultimate sacrifice. He knew he needed to ensure that Josh’s family was taken care of.
"Frank was the one who started the ball rolling on getting the kennel (aboard Camp Lejeune) named Ashley Kennel and made sure we could adopt Sirius," Tammie said. "He does a lot to make sure Josh is not forgotten. He's helped in more ways than we will ever be able to pay him back."
According to Ginn, he ensures Josh’s legacy lives on by sharing his story and what they all learned while deployed. That is another aspect about the MWD community, they constantly share lessons learned with each other to ensure the Marines are safe.
"Today I came to see where Frank works now and meet his Marines," Tammie said. "It’s such an encouragement to me hearing how these Marines look up to and respect Josh; I don’t ever want him to be forgotten."
Ginn explained that Tammie has a growing family of all the Marines who knew Josh and the Marines who have continued to enter into the MWD community.
"We continue to pass along the lessons learned and the stories because of his legacy," Ginn said. "Because the bar was set so high and such a heavy price paid, I introduce Tammie to all of these Marines so that she knows no matter where she is, or where I am, she has a family that is constantly growing and here for her."
After showing Tammie around where he works, Ginn took her for a surprise trip to visit a local artist.
"Tammie had no idea, but I took a picture of Sirius to a local artist who just moved here from Hong Kong," Ginn said. "She made a painting for me and I’m going to give it to Tammie."
No matter where they are or how many years have passed, the Ashley’s have an unbreakable bond with the MWD community based out of love for Josh. According to Tammie, she thinks it’s something almost intangible, a trait that the people within the MWD community just have.
"There is a brotherhood like no other I've seen," Tammie said. "I get to know these boys and they all have a little bit of Josh in them. There's just a little bit of him in each one of them and that’s a healing to me. I love hearing the stories, it helps me to be around them."
Boyer says that he loves sharing stories with Tammie and her family about his time with Josh. They love hearing about the laughs they shared and how well loved Josh was and still is.
"The day he was killed, I found out that there was going to be a candle light vigil under his "local hero banner" in his hometown," Boyer said. "It was about a two-hour drive from Camp Pendleton, but it wasn’t even a question whether to go. I knew I needed to be there and provide anything for his family, even if it was just a hug. They had asked me to be a pallbearer for his funeral. From that moment on, we have built a relationship that is like no other. There are many Marines who were close with Josh, but have become even closer to Josh’s parents and brothers now; they are family."