CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq -- The peaceful waters surrounding the bridge atop which they stood seemed to contrast sharply with the chaotic deployment they had just lived through.
In a matter of days, the two young Marines would return to their stateside comforts, but not before they and their unique friends were recognized for their efforts to rid Fallujah of insurgents.
On May 23, Sgt. Ryan Martel and Cpl. Joseph Tullier, both K-9 handlers with the 2nd Military Police Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force, received combat meritorious promotions to their present ranks.
Standing beside them and also promoted were their two faithful friends, Staff Sgt. Cindy and Sgt. Adja both military working dogs.
Together, these four Marines spent their seven months in country working alongside Iraqi soldiers and Marines from several infantry battalions to eliminate the terrorist presence here.
“We arrived here Nov. 9, during the first few days of the fall push through Fallujah,” explained Tullier, a 21-year-old Gonzales, La. native. “From there, we did IED (improvised explosive device) sweeps through areas of the city with our dogs, as well as searching through areas that are now being used as FOBs (forward operating bases) inside the city.”
The East Ascension High School graduate added that he and his Belgian Malinois companion, Adja, discovered munitions to include 26 ammo caches, 10 rocket propelled grenade launchers, and two IED factories while conducting operations here.
Martel, a 21-year-old native of Fall River, Mass., said that he and Cindy also found similar quantities of weapons stashes.
Along with their promotions, the two Marines were presented Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals with Combat ‘V’ distinguishing devices. These awards are given for exceptional devotion to duty while displaying valor in a combat environment.
Toward the end of 2004, the Marines began manning entry control points into Fallujah. Marines and Iraqi soldiers manning these posts must check everyone coming into Fallujah for weapons and anti-Coalition or Iraqi government propaganda.
While manning ECPs alongside Iraqi soldiers and Marine infantrymen, including 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment personnel, Cindy and Adja sniffed for any explosive materials passing through.
“Our Marine K-9 capabilities are a proven combat multiplier, and a key asset in our ongoing operations here,” stated Lt. Col. William M. Jurney, the battalion commander, as he explained the importance of the K-9 handlers in helping the soldiers and Marines bar explosives and contraband from Fallujah. “This capability is a key component to adding yet another layer of security measures to safeguard the people of Iraq.”
“We cleared in excess of 1200 vehicles at the ECPs,” Tullier said.
These Marines come to Iraq already highly trained to safeguard Iraq’s citizens. To become a military K-9 handler, all Marines must first be qualified as Military Policemen. During their basic MP training, instructors ask their students who wants to receive additional training as a K-9 handler.
“Just about everyone raises their hand,” Tullier said. “They usually only pick about one to four people out of a class of 50 students.”
Instructors only select top-notch students. The MPs must display first-class physical fitness and marksmanship scores, along with possessing a clean background and passing inspection before a board.
Once selected, the Marines attend a joint-service, 13-week-long K-9 handler training course aboard Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
“We train our dogs in explosives and narcotics detection,” Martel explained. “We teach them to attack or not attack on command, how to conduct building searches, and how to scout open areas to find people. We’ve actually used them to find missing people before.”
Upon graduating, the Marines and their canine companions are ready to hit the Fleet Marine Force, where their skills get put to the test in combat.
“During training, you know more about what’s going on,” Martel stated. “Out here, you don’t know what your dog is going to find. It could be ammunition, or an IED. Being out here lets you know how good you really are, because this is the real deal, a true test of your skills.”
Along with realizing their contributions in the Global War on Terrorism, the Marines said the bonds between them and their dogs is the most rewarding aspect of their job.
“I love this job, because you get to play with dogs every day,” Tullier continued. “You come out here to a combat environment, and you have a dog that’s with you all the time. He’s your best friend and work buddy.”
“There’s no other MOS (military occupational specialty) where you can work with dogs all day,” Martel added. “These dogs would die for us; they’re that loyal. She’s my buddy, and she goes everywhere with me here. Out here, the dogs are another weapon, another asset.”