MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. --
It’s always been said, although the originator of the phrase is unknown, that a dog is a man’s best friend.
Corporal James Duck knows the depth of such a statement; his job, better still, his life revolves around this four-legged creature. He is a military police canine handler with the Provost Marshals Office and he spends his days taking care of, and training, his dog, Bancuk. Bancuk is a six-year-old Belgian Malinois and has deployed to Iraq as a working dog three times. Duck and Bancuk deployed together to Fallujah, Iraq as part of II Marine Expeditionary Force.
“I’ve been here close to three years and I’ve had her for about half that,” Duck said, “I really love her; I consider her one of my best friends. I look at her like I would my child.”
While in garrison, Duck and Bancuk conduct random vehicle checks, health and comfort inspections for barracks rooms and walking patrols. They work here at the Air Station, as well as Laurel Bay, Marine Corps Recruit Deport Parris Island and Naval Hospital Beaufort. Handlers are normally solely responsible for their dog. However, sometimes other Marines help out around the kennel.
A handler’s duty overseas, however, is a totally different story.
“She was with me twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,” Duck said. “That dog did not leave my side the entire time I was there. Every patrol I went on, every cache sweep … she stayed with me.”
Based in Fallujah, Duck and Bancuk frequently ventured out to various forward operating bases to conduct sweeps for weapons caches, improvised explosive devices and house searches. They worked with various units in the province, including Navy SEAL’s and Company F, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. He cared for her, fed her and groomed her. She even slept in the cot with him, diligently watching over her master and his gear.
“Every time I hit the rack she would jump up and sleep on my feet,” Duck said. “She lived with me for seven months. This one time, I had some food sitting on my rack and I walked away to get some water. When I came back, the food was missing and she was trying to give me this innocent look like she didn’t eat it. It was pretty funny; I couldn’t stay mad at her. It was really nice having her with me. It was like having one of your best friends on deployment with you.”
Having an animal at your side constantly in a combat zone paves the way for mixed emotions as there are good and bad experiences to be had.
“It’s like having a best friend and a newborn child at the same time,” explained Duck. “They offer companionship that is irreplaceable but they also need attention and care almost constantly. I was on a patrol one time near one of the F.O.B’s outside of Fallujah checking out hot spots some choppers warned us about and we came across this irrigation ditch. It was probably two or three feet wide and had a concrete slab on top of it. While we’re walking across this thing, she decides to jump off the slab; the problem was that I was holding her leash. So, when she jumped, I had sixty pounds of weight pulling me down and I smacked headfirst onto the concrete. I was mad at the time but its kind of funny looking back on it now. That deployment was full of situations like that.”
Their working relationship will end soon, however as Duck prepares for his upcoming end of active service date. Bancuk will likely go to a new handler because she already has established habits and she already knows what’s going on, according to Duck.
“I am not looking forward to having to leave her behind at all,” explains Duck. “I’m ready to move on with my life but I love that dog. I really wish I could adopt her and take her with me. I don’t really know how to explain it but there’s a certain bond that grows between a handler and a working dog. I’m going to miss her.”
So, as Duck moves on with his life and goes forth to do great things, Banuck will remain here, continuing to serve the Marine Corps as a faithful military working dog and a Marine’s best friend.