Monday, January 17, 2011

K-9 Sgt. COLE, USMC died saving the lives of his men - Cole made eye contact with his handler and seemed to say, “I won’t let them hurt you.”

While I was in Afghanistan, the experience of being there was somewhat difficult as you feel very isolated. Even on a base like Kandahar Airfield with 28,000 troops and contractors, you can feel somewhat alone as it is so alien to our normal life.

One night I was driving on the base from one place to another and I saw a dog handler and his pal walking along one of the roads that criss-crossed the base. It was kinda cool as you could tell they were having fun even just walking along. It made me think of my own dogs back home and miss them a little more.

I slowed the van down and rolled down the window to speak with the young soldier.

I said, " Hey, do you know you are the luckiest bastard on this base??? You get to have your pal with you wherever you go..."

He responded, " Yes, Yes I am the luckiest bastard on this base."

He knew that having his buddy along gave him something the rest of us envied...a friend and protector by his side while walking around the shite-wilds of Afghanistan.

K-9 Sgt. Cole was one of the best at what he did - finding IEDs and protecting his men especially his buddy, Cpl. Brian Holm. He gave his life to keep his men safe.

We salute you Sgt. Cole....SEMPER FI....You done well.

Fair Winds and following seas shipmate - Rest Easy, we have the watch.


Champion-bred retriever K-9 Sgt. Cole dies saving Marines
Black Labrador spent final days hunting IEDs

By J.L. Miller - Marine Times
Posted : Sunday Jan 16, 2011 11:12:58 EST

Cole was born for sport, but died in battle. The spawn of two champion black Labrador retrievers, he was bread for field trials, a competitive sport in which dogs make complicated retrievals at the direction of their owners.

But destiny had other plans for him. He was donated to the Marine Corps and spent the last of his days saving lives by sniffing out improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan.

In Cole’s last moments, as Cpl. Brian Holm’s three-man unit searched for mines along a dangerous road near Delaram, in Helmand province, the black Lab looked over his shoulder at Holm, his handler. Holm later told his wife, Brittany, that he will never forget the look on Cole’s face. It seemed to say,
“I won’t let them hurt you.”

Then the explosion hit.

In his final moment before the blast, Cole made eye contact with Holm, and then, knowing his job, went back to work protecting Holm, his unit and all of us back home.

Cole began life in Iowa where Steve Tull, a hunter and dog handler in Dover, Del., bought him for $3,000. Tull wanted to try his hand at field trials with a dog bred for the task. Training can be costly, but Tull had a friend who took it on. When the friend moved away, Tull was left with a partially trained dog and a decision to make about what to do with him.

One day, Tull spoke with Bob Agnor, a friend who works for K2 Solutions Inc., a North Carolina firm that trains dogs to sniff out IEDs. Tull and his wife learned that military handlers form a deep bond with their dogs and treat them well, which is what they wanted for Cole. So Cole shipped out to North Carolina, where he met Holm, a 26-year-old combat engineer.

“We clicked real well. He just kind of responded to what I did,” Holm recalled in a telephone interview from the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., where he is based.

Trainer and trainee graduated in mid-February. Cole became Sgt. Cole, USMC — Marine dogs traditionally hold a rank one level above their handler’s — and by April they were on their way to Afghanistan.

Eventually, Tull received a photo of Cole with a Marine corporal with the name “Holm” stitched on his uniform. He e-mailed a Navy chaplain assigned to the 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion.

“Cole was, and is, a very special dog,” Tull wrote. “I feel that it is important to let Cpl. Holm know the history behind Cole, and I would like to be able to send the two of them care packages.”

Davenport responded with e-mail and postal addresses for Holm. The two swapped messages, and Tull and his wife struck up a friendship with Holm’s wife, who lives in Cleveland with their three young boys.

“I must say my husband is more on the ‘manly man Marine’ side,” Brittany told Tull. “And when he received your first letter while still in the States, he was reading it to me and began to get teary-eyed. … He told me he will do everything he possibly can to bring Cole home safe.”

On Cole’s first mission in Afghanistan, he sniffed out an 80-pound IED. Before long, he was top dog. And when the summer ended, Cole’s routine ramped up.

“There were two other dogs in the platoon. One dog had one find, one dog had zero finds. Cole was our go-to dog. He was finding IEDs every mission in October,” Holm said.

Oct. 15 was scheduled to be their last patrol. Holm, Cole, two other Marines and another dog were searching for mines on a busy road.

“It was known for kite-string, command-pull IEDs,” Holm said. Those explosives are tripped by an insurgent hiding nearby who pulls the string when the target is close.
Cole was searching about 50 feet in front of the men. The Marine with the mine detector was the closest to Cole.

“There was no sign of kite strings,” Holm said.
There was no sign of insurgents.

Cole looked over his shoulder and caught Holm’s eye. Someone pulled a string.
“Cole was probably not even 3 meters from the IED,” Holm said.

No one knows why the insurgent pulled the string. Perhaps nerves got to him. Maybe he did not like dogs. All Holm knows is that if Cole had not taken the hit, the Marine with the mine detector was next in line.

Holm told his wife he was given two choices for Cole’s remains. He could bury him or have him cremated.

“Brian chose to bury him,” Holm’s wife wrote to Tull. “He buried him where the incident occurred. He wanted him to be there because that’s where he became a hero.”

Miller writes for The News Journal (Wilmington, Del.)

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