Friday, March 16, 2012

Soldier Dogs, by Maria Goodavage

Loyal Lex(Excerpted from Soldier Dogs)
By Maria Goodavage

For more than a month in early 2011, Marine Sgt. Mark Vierig slept in foxholes every night in the Upper Gereshk Valley of Afghanistan. The combat tracker and his Belgian Malinois, Lex L479, were supporting a Marine platoon in charge of safeguarding the construction of the first paved road in the Helmand Province from Taliban attacks. As road construction moved on, so did they, and the Marine found himself digging a new foxhole every few days.
Soldier Dogs
Lex in Afghanistan. A true regal four-legged hero.
Photo credit: Mark Vierig
It was a cold, wet time of year, and rained heavily, daily, almost all day and all night long. Gore-Tex raingear protected Vierig somewhat by day, and at night he'd take refuge in a sleeping bag in his muddy foxhole -- about three feet deep, six feet long and two feet wide. He also dug a connecting circular hole next to the part of his foxhole near his head. This was for Lex and his backpack. From the air, it looked like the letter P.
Every sopping night Vierig would sink into the foxhole to sleep, and get Lex in to bunk next to him to keep relatively dry. He'd prop up his rifle under a camouflage tarp so the rain would run off and not flood their refuge. Rocks kept the outside of the tarp in place. Every night Vierig would wake up at least a couple of times to scoop water from a deep hole he'd dug at the foot of the hole to collect water so his foxhole wouldn't flood.
But when Vierig awoke, Lex was rarely in the foxhole. It was baffling the first time it happened, but the Marine propped up the tarp and looked outside and found his dog. This would go on every night during those wet weeks. "He'd just be standing there, in the rain, just standing guard over me." The dog did not sit, but stood, head erect, large triangular ears at attention and focused for sounds, eyes peering into the darkness for any sign of intrusion. His coat was soaked with rain, but he stood riveted, noble.
"I'd tell him, 'Hey you, come on in here!' " and he'd leave his post and go to his subterranean room – at least until Vierig fell asleep again. When Vierig would wake up a couple of hours later ready to scoop more rain with his empty half plastic water bottle, Lex would be back up on volunteer duty.
Did Lex sleep during this time? "I wondered that a lot. I asked him 'When do you sleep, dog?' He spent a lot of sleepless nights watching over me."
Click Here to read more about Soldier Dogs, by Maria Goodavage.


  1. This is a great book! If you are interested in military working dogs then this is a book you'll want to read. If you AREN'T interested in military working dogs read this book... by the time you get through the first couple of chapters you'll be hooked.

    Although written in a style which relies on a lot of first-hand observation and quotes from those who are involved in MWD it is a very engaging volume, providing information on how these dogs are bought, trained and deployed. Goodavage clearly loves dogs and it comes through in this work, which is why I think I enjoyed it so much. Who wants to read a book by someone who hates (or is just not into) the topic? I had seen these dogs in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East but now, thanks to Soldier Dogs, I think I have come to appreciate these working animals for the contribution that they make in finding EODs and providing security.

    1. Thank you for your comments. The book and Goodavage clearly give much deserved recognition to these relentless and very special canines. My additional appreciation to Mark Vierig and his wonderful contributions!

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