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Kennel’s ‘top dog’ sent to Iraq for second time, sniffing out weapons, terrorists

By Pfc. Zachary Dyer | | September 9, 2005

Marines aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort are continually deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. However, for one Fightertown Devil Dog, the second trip to Iraq will be on all fours.

Benny, a 6-year-old German Shepherd and a military working dog at the Provost Marshal’s Office, left for his second deployment in support of OIF, Aug. 26.

In October 2004, Benny was sent on his first tour with Cpl. Roy Brown, the canine trainer at PMO. Benny was attached to 1st  Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, and spent time in Najaf, Baghdad and Fallujah, according to Brown.

“We were basically a grunt with a dog,” Brown said. “We did patrols, raids and found a bunch of weapons caches. Because of him, I got put in for the Bronze Star.”

With the success of his first tour  under his collar, Benny’s second trip to Iraq should be no problem, according to Brown.

“Benny loves it over there,” Brown said. “He slept in the rack with me. He went everywhere with me except the chow hall.”

Military working dogs are treated  like Marines in Iraq, according to Brown. When a mortar landed close to Benny and damaged his ears, he was medevaced to safety like any Marine would be.  

PMO has deployed six dogs to Iraq, but Benny is the only one to be sent twice, according to Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Bunt, the kennel master at PMO. “It’s not unusual for a dog to be deployed twice, but as fast as the turnaround was between Benny’s last deployment and now, yes, that’s unusual,” Bunt said.

Benny’s second tour to Iraq may have come rapidly, but not without good reason, according to Brown.

“Benny is the best dog in the kennel,” Brown said.

When Benny returned to the Air Station in January, he resumed his normal life as a military working dog, which includes training, barracks searches, providing security, and responding to bomb calls from Charleston to Savannah, according to Cpl. Stephen Dojnia, Benny’s  handler.

Dojnia, the fifth Marine to handle Benny, began working with him in June.

Before the war in Iraq, it was normal for handlers to stay with their dogs for three to four years. Now, in order to keep the handlers from deploying too often, they are switched after about a year and a half, according to Bunt.

Benny and Dojnia will spend about two weeks in Camp Lejeune before heading for Iraq.

Dojnia is happy to be working with Benny and looking forward to deployment.

“Look at him,” Dojnia said. “He’s a 6-year-old dog, but he has the energy of a puppy.”

Just like Marines of the two-legged variety, military working dogs have to prepare for deployment. Handlers take the dogs on long walks to get them acclimated to the heat, according to Brown. The dogs are also issued “doggles”, which are custom goggles to protect their eyes in  case of a sandstorm, and booties to protect their feet from the hot sand, according to Brown.

Benny, who was born in 1999, was trained to be a military working dog at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in 2000. Upon completion of his training, Benny was sent to PMO at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in 2000. Benny was then moved aboard Fightertown in January 2004, when the Military Working Dogs section was consolidated.

Also in January, Benny had a replacement hip put in because of hip dysplasia, a condition that many German Shepherds develop. However, a hip replacement will not keep Benny from performing his duties in Iraq, according to Brown. “Now he’s all over the place. You can’t keep him down,” Brown said.