CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - While deployed to Afghanistan, Cpl. Joey Nunez experienced one the most dangerous events of his life. However, he is forever grateful that his companion, Vicky, was with him.
Nunez, a military working dog handler with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, was wounded during a patrol. He said that having his dog by his side helped him calm down and keep the situation under control.
Over the years military working dogs have provided support to ground combat troops. They are trained to detect explosive devices, attack individuals who represent danger or to simply provide visual deterrence.
Nunez, from Los Angeles, joined the Marine Corps more than three years ago to become a military police officer. A year into his enlistment he had the opportunity to become a military working dog handler.
“I’ve always had a love for dogs so as soon as they said they had canine spots available I wanted to jump right on it and didn’t want to miss the opportunity,” said Nunez.
To become a handler, Marines are selected by a board to perform on-the-job training during a trial period at a base dog kennel, said Nunez.
Based on their performance and their ability to build a relationship with the dogs, Marines are chosen to go to the Department of Defense Military Working Dog School in Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
Nunez was originally assigned to his working dog, Vicky, with whom he continues to work with today.
“I’ve been with Vicky for about two years and spent seven months with her [during deployment]” Nunez said.
His time as a dog handler has allowed Nunez to develop a strong bond with Vicky.
“We’re pretty close, I can go two or three weeks without seeing her and as soon as she sees me she gets all excited and she runs straight toward me,” said Nunez.
And a strong relationship between dog handlers and their dogs doesn’t seem to be an uncommon thing.
“It is impossible not to form a bond with your dog, a kind of bond that you cannot understand unless you have experienced it yourself,” said Cpl. Johanna Robbins, a military working dog handler with 1st LEB.
Nunez has had the chance to understand that bond and truly how deep that bond goes.
“While going through the experience of being shot, [Vicky] saw me freaking out and she remained very calm,” said Nunez. “Knowing that she was right there by my side was one of the best experiences I’ve had with the dog.”
Marine dog handlers like Nunez and Robbins see their dogs not only as their friend or work partner but as a comrade.
“When you deploy [with your dog], it takes being man’s best friend to a whole new level,” said Robbins. “Your life depends on them as much as their life depends on you.”
Nunez explains that his job provides a valuable asset to his fellow Marines.
“The best part of being a dog handler is the reward you get, how you’re utilized overseas and how everybody behind you is depending on you and your training with the dog,” said Nunez. “Everybody thanks you, everybody loves having the dog around.”
Vicky has been an asset to the Marine Corps, keeping Marines safe, but after three tours in Afghanistan she is nearing retirement.
“We went on over 50 combat patrols with not one injury from any explosion so she definitely did her job out there,” said Nunez.
The Marine Corps will soon start the retirement process and coordinate what the future holds for her.
“Hopefully she gets out at the same time I do so I can adopt her,” said Nunez. “But I’m definitely going to miss her if I don’t get to adopt her when she retires.”