A True War Hero

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Trying to Adopt

Then came March 21, 2007. Dustin and Lex were on their base in Karmah, Iraq, when a 73-millimeter rocket exploded nearby. Shrapnel hit Dustin in the chest; he died within the hour. While they were waiting for the airlift to a nearby treatment facility, Lex refused to leave his master despite his own shrapnel wounds. "Lex was practically on top of Dustin," says Rachel, who learned about her son's last moments from the soldiers who were with him. "In my mind and in my heart, Dustin's blood is running through Lex's blood because of that."

Lex was flown to a veterinary facility at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and 10 days later, at Rachel's request, the dog was brought to Mississippi to attend Dustin's funeral. With the fur along his back and tail scorched black, Lex sat quietly through the service, staring at Dustin's flag-draped coffin.

Having the German shepherd at the service gave Rachel the chance to buttonhole military officials who were at the funeral. "What about Lex?" she asked. "We want to bring him home with us."

What she didn't realize at first was how unlikely it was that her request would be granted. It takes six months and costs $15,000 to train military working dogs, and each typically works 10 years before completing its service. Lex still had at least two years to go. And there was no precedent: No military working dog had ever been adopted while still on active duty.

But Rachel couldn't fathom the idea that Lex might be sent back to Iraq again -- especially without Dustin. The German shepherd had nearly lost his tail in the attack that killed his master, and an inoperable piece of shrapnel was still lodged near his spine. "We just didn't feel like he could go through any more," she says.

Rachel also hoped that adopting Lex might help the family -- including Dustin's sister, Madyson, 16, and brother, Camryn, 14 -- heal. If only they could bring Lex home, she thought, she might feel a little joy once again.

Continued on page 3:  Dustin's Legacy


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