CChyna, a Marine War Dog, takes a break from sniffing for bombs in Fallujah to strike a pretty pose for the camera.

Send in the doggone Marines

Editor's note: P.T. Brent, a Honolulu businessman and former Marine infantryman, is traveling with Marine units in Iraq, Afghanistan and Djibouti. His dispatches from the war front will appear periodically on the Star-Bulletin editorial pages.

CChyna, bred by the corps and tattooed Delta-043, is the pride of the expanding Marine Corps dog tracker and security units. She's an MWD, Marine War Dog. Perhaps named after the legendary Fourth Marines of Shanghai fame, she is the close working pal of Marine Sgt. Dan Wheeler. A Belgian Malau born Sept. 12, 1999, CChyna is trained to go ahead of Marines and sniff out explosives and hidden snipers or terrorists.

This canine leatherneck knows her stuff. At Guantanamo, CChyna was used for "mind deterrent" with Afghan detainees. After some time off recently to heal from a broken foot, CChyna is now with Master Dan in red-hot Fallujah to sniff out IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Iraq.

These dogs are treasured for their loyalty and their price tag. As pups, they cost $2,000; after training they are valued at more than $60,000. When one dies, it is buried with full Marine honors. There is a special war dog cemetery at Camp Lejeune, N.C., with grave markers recounting the history of the deceased. There lie some 30 dogs that gave life and faithful service to the Marine Corps.

CChyna, a Marine War Dog, eyes a tennis ball in a teasing match with her trainer, Marine Sgt. Dan Wheeler.

The graduates of the new program are tracker-oriented and will be assigned to Osama bin Laden's backyard.

Wheeler, a gentleman from Grand Rapids, Mich. -- same home town as former President Gerald Ford -- is a soft-spoken, classic Marine sergeant. He played football and ran track at Rogers High School, class of '97. His mom, Theresa, taught at Rogers Elementary for more than 20 years and his dad, David, worked at Grand Rapids' water treatment facility after a hitch as a Navy Seabee.

After attending Ferris State, Wheeler joined the Marine Corps because his Uncle Gary, a "cool guy," was a leatherneck. Later, his Uncle Tony suggested K-9 Corps activity and Wheeler re-enlisted to get the assignment. He is seeking a commission program in the Corps.

When asked about the war dissenters, Wheeler replied, "My family has always served. These people know that they are wrong."

His wife, Sara, also comes from a family with a Corps tradition. Wheeler's elder brother was a Seabee, another brother, a firefighter, and younger brother Justin may join the Marine Corps after he graduates from Rogers High this year.

The daunting task of rebuilding Iraq is overwhelming in comparison to waging the war. Iraq has the resources and the people to make it the arena of a renaissance of the Muslim world. Let's pray the Iraqis give us a chance to help them.

This is a most auspicious moment to take pride in America and our forces overseas. Do you remember pride in our country? We used to have it by the carload. Forget whether you agree or not with taking on Saddam Hussein, just get yourself a flag a wave it proudly. Let's pray for our distant warriors, and let's bring our young Americans home safely.

The faces of these leathernecks may seem younger -- faces like Sgt. Dan Wheeler's and Capt. Chris Borzi's from Poughquaq, N.Y. (U.S. Naval Academy, 1996). But the packs and the rifles, they weigh as much. The heat, dust, cold and long night marches are all still there. Yes, the faces may appear younger, but beneath the surface runs the same blood that stained and won battlefields from Tripoli to Iwo Jima, and from Guadalcanal to Iraq.

They are the same outfit. The United States Marine Corps.

P.T. Brent


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