Base dedicates kennel to fallen Marine

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

MCLB-ALBANY -- Nearly three years to the day after a rocket attack left a Marine dead and his canine partner wounded, officials in Southwest Georgia honored him by renaming a facility aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany after him.

The commandant of the Marine Corps granted permission for MCLB-Albany to dedicate the base K-9 kennel building in honor of the late Cpl. Dustin J. Lee, an occasion base officials held a ceremony to commemorate Friday morning.

Lee, of Quitman, Miss., was born April 7, 1986. He was killed in Iraq on March 21, 2007 in a 73-mm rocket attack.

"Cpl. Lee selflessly gave his all," said Col. Terry Williams, commanding officer of the base. "It is fitting we name the kennel after Cpl. Lee. It's a big deal, and it doesn't come lightly."

The request to dedicate the kennel was put in by Col. Christian Haliday, former commanding officer of the base. The approval came through late last year.

Lee's military working dog, Lex, sustained shrapnel wounds in his back and shoulder but survived the incident.

At that time, Lee was detached from the Marine Corps Police Department, Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, and attached to the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 6, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

During their tour of duty, Lee and Lex successfully identified many improvised explosive devices. Just days before his death, Lee's unit was attacked by insurgents; he immediately returned fire, allowing his comrades to conduct a successful counterattack.

Letters were read at the ceremony from high-profile figures who were unable to attend including former President Carter, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss.

"The courage and strength Lee and Lex demonstrated is a shining example of the bravery of the Marine Corps," Carter said in his letter.

"This is a wonderful tribute to Cpl. Lee," Perdue's letter read. "His sacrifice and those of his family will be long remembered."

Lee's family attended the event along with Lex, whom they were eventually able to adopt in December 2007 after appealing to the military. Before his adoption, the military working dog was aboard MCLB-Albany for five years and served two tours in Iraq. He had been back on active duty at the installation for five months.

Lt. Gen. Richard F. Natonski, commander of U.S. Marine Forces Command, was the guest speaker at Friday's ceremony.

"The Marine Corps' motto is brief and to the point -- 'Semper Fidelis'," he said in his address. "In the Corps we make it even briefer and to the point -- 'Semper Fi.'

"Cpl. Lee and Lex were used to danger. As we have become aware, IEDs are deadly; they are hidden and extremely powerful. They have the capability to destroy man and machine."

The attack that fatally wounded the Lee came from a remote distance away. In the moments after the attack, it has been said that Lex refused to leave the Marine, that the dog had to be pulled away so the corporal's wounds could be treated.

"Unfortunately, his wounds were too great," Natonski said.

Rachel Lee, the Marine's mother, has experience as a volunteer search and rescue dog handler. With tears in her eyes, she gave a heartfelt message to those present at the ceremony.

"This means so much to us," she said. "This base is an extension of our family. Dustin was not perfect; he was the typical child that would get in trouble. But, he did have a perfection -- to be the best dog handler he could be. I'm honored to be his mom.

"I miss him, but I know he's serving in a better place."

Before his death, Lee had often expressed his intent to pursue a career in civilian law enforcement in order to follow in the footsteps of his father, Jerome Lee, who currently works as an investigator with the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

"The last three years have been hard to say the least, but we've had a lot of support," Jerome Lee said. "It's fitting that the Marine Corps and military family have come together to honor him.

"Lee and Lex had a close bond. They grew so close that Dustin felt so much love. When Dustin was buried, you could tell Lex had lost a friend."

The Defense Department's Military Working Dog Program is based at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The department has approximately 2,300 military working dogs. With a sense of smell five to 10 times stronger than a human's, working dogs are able to detect minute traces of explosives or drugs and alert handlers of their presence.