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Marine's Best Friend, Insurgent's Worst Enemy
by USMC Cpl. Johnny Merkley - January 31, 2012

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FORWARD OPERATING BASE GERONIMO, Afghanistan (1/25/2012) – When Cpl. Ross T. Gundlach enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2008, the last thing he expected to do was rely on a dog for survival while patrolling the rugged terrain of southern Helmand province.

U.S. Marine Cpl. Ross T. Gundlach, a dog handler with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and his trusted dog Casey pose for a photo after searching a local village here, Jan. 12, 2012. Always together while on patrol, Gundlach, a 24-year-old native of Madison, Wis., and Casey, an improvised device detection dog, search for IEDs, IED components and weapons caches. Gundlach is one of 34 dog handlers currently serving with 2/6, and only one of two handlers with a non-infantry background. Photo by USMC Cpl. Johnny Merkley
U.S. Marine Cpl. Ross T. Gundlach, a dog handler with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and his trusted dog Casey pose for a photo after searching a local village here, Jan. 12, 2012. Always together while on patrol, Gundlach, a 24-year-old native of Madison, Wis., and Casey, an improvised device detection dog, search for IEDs, IED components and weapons caches. Gundlach is one of 34 dog handlers currently serving with 2/6, and only one of two handlers with a non-infantry background. Photo by USMC Cpl. Johnny Merkley
 Gundlach, a 24-year-old native of Madison, Wis., was first stationed aboard Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, where he worked as a supply manager. His hard work during the first year of his enlistment didn't go unnoticed, and Gundlach was offered a position as the driver and assistant for Brig. Gen. Craig C. Crenshaw, the commanding general of 3rd Marine Logistics Group, for the second year of his Okinawa tour.

“When they came to me with the job, I obviously didn't turn in down,” Gundlach said. “It was a great opportunity and I learned a lot from the experience.”

After two years on Okinawa, Gundlach was scheduled to transfer to a different unit. With several options on the table, Gundlach believed it was his duty to deploy to Afghanistan to serve his country, and seek the once in a lifetime experience that can only be found on the battlefield.

“I requested to be with an infantry battalion, even though I was fully aware that I would be working as a supply clerk and probably not see any action,” said Gundlach. “The sergeant major told me there was an opening with 2/6, so I jumped on that opportunity.”

After arriving at 2/6, he was given another, and more unexpected, opportunity of a lifetime. Gundlach was offered the job of dog handler, and was one of only two Marines in the battalion without an infantry background to be selected
for that duty.

“When they told me I could be a dog handler, it was one of the happiest days of my life,” said Gundlach. “I've loved dogs my whole life so being able to do this as a job... I wouldn't want to do anything else.”

Gundlach was immediately sent to a six-week course for dog handling where he teamed up with his new partner, Casey, a yellow, pure-bread Labrador Retriever. Together, he and Casey worked long hours to train for the upcoming deployment.

“When your training and working with these dogs, you have to have an open mind, each dog is different and has different temperaments and behaviors,” said George D. Barrow, the Improvised Explosive Device Detection Dog Field Service Representative for 2/6. “When the Marines do this training, Gundlach and the others must learn how to read their dogs because their lives may depend on it.”

After successfully completing the course, Gundlach joined Golf Company, 2/6, at Enhanced Mojave Viper where he and Casey integrated with the company's other dog handling team. He quickly learned that having Casey for a friend wasn't always fun and games.

“I would imagine it's like having a kid,” said Gundlach. “Whether it's cleaning her, feeding her, walking her or taking care of her medical needs, this dog is my life.”

“Gundlach has a positive attitude, that's what makes him such a good handler,” added Barrow. “He's willing to do the necessary training to allow his dog to perform properly; he shows a lot of confidence and trust in his dog, which really separates him from other handlers.”

Even with Gundlach's dedication to Casey and his love for dogs, he will be honorably separating from the Marine Corps at the end of his current deployment. He hopes to follow his dream of graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in business and pursue a career in real estate.

“I've learned and done so much in the Marine Corps it would be hard for me not to apply everything I've learned here and use it the rest of my life,” said Gundlach. “As for Casey, I trust her with my life, I have to. She and I have a very dangerous job, but we take it day by day and constantly learn more about each other and ourselves.”

By USMC Cpl. Johnny Merkley
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2012

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