On June 8, 2013, Marine Sergeant Mark Daniels and several of his battle buddies were returning to their combat outpost in Afghanistan after a day of patrolling. As they neared the outpost, a 200-pound mprovised Explosive Device blew up their MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle). Inside with Mark was his beloved military working dog, Aura. Both seriously wounded, they lay in separate ERs where doctors and veterinarians worked frantically to save them. Everyone survived, including Aura, but it's not good to separate a man and his dog during a crisis. They will find each other, even if it takes five months.
Mark's wife Jesca begins the story:
"Mark got Aura in 2010. She was new to the fleet and he was her first handler. They had an instant connection and have worked together ever since. All the instructors said that the bond he and Aura shared was incredible, and they were one of the best teams that had come through. In March of 2013, we said goodbye as they headed to Afghanistan for a seven-month deployment."
Three months later the MRAP was blown up. Jesca continues:
"Mark and Aura were thrown from their seats. He sustained a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) with bleeding and bruising on his brain, along with neck and back injuries. Aura had a collapsed lung and a heart arrhythmia and was taken to the vet in country.
"They told me she was very anxious and would not sleep. They took her to the hospital to see Mark before he was flown back stateside. hen she saw him, she climbed into bed with him and went to sleep for the first time since being treated. Mark was sent to Germany and then back to Camp Lejeune, but Aura had to stay in Afghanistan for treatment and then wait until someone could fly her back.
"When Mark came home he could barely walk, and had to have help doing everything. Every day he asked about Aura."
In fact, it was Mark's love of dogs that led him to join the Marines ten years ago.
"I saw a program about military working dogs (MWDs) on TV and decided I wanted to do that," he said.
All through his initial Marine training he kept asking to work with dogs. The military screens carefully for dog handlers, however. Mark had to go through a rigorous competition, eventually emerging as one of four chosen from 20 who had made the final cut.
"I think being able to greet Aura when she came back motivated Mark through therapy. He was sent to Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis for treatment where we stayed at the Fisher House. He worked very hard and amazed everyone with his progress. We got back to Camp Lejeune the week before Aura came back. At the homecoming he was nervous she wouldn't remember him."
"Every time I called Aura or fed her, I used a unique whistle," Mark said. He demonstrated the three-note call. Had she forgotten?
Turns out it takes more than time, distance and trauma to break the bond between man and dog. To see the moment of reunion, go to Youtube.com and search for "Aura and Mark MWD reunion."
Mark's neck and back are better, but he still has problems with speech, migraines and blurry vision. The Marines have initiated a medical retirement package for him.
And Aura? Right now she's at the Camp Lejeune kennels, recovering from surgery on an injured knee. The Marines might retire her medically, but if she's fit for duty, she'll be assigned to another handler.
Either way, Jesca and Mark are hoping the Marines will let her live out her days with them when she retires. "We've saved a warm spot on the sofa for her," Jesca says.(If you would like to send an email of appreciation to Sgt. Daniels and his family, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will pass it on to them. Put "Wounded Marine" as the subject.)
Carol Megathlin, formerly of Americus, is a writer who now lives in Savannah; email@example.com.