United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News

American Forces Press ServiceBookmark and Share

 News Article

Fallen Marine's Family Adopts His Best Friend

By Randy Roughton
Defense Media Activity-San Antonio

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas, Feb. 4, 2011 – "Whatever is mine is his," Marine Corps Pfc. Colton W. Rusk wrote about Eli, his military working dog, in the final days of their deployment in Afghanistan.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Brady Rusk, 12, gets a somber kiss from Eli, a bomb-sniffing military working dog, during a retirement and adoption ceremony at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Feb. 3, 2011. The Labrador retriever was assigned to Brady's older brother, Marine Corps Pfc. Colton Rusk, who was killed in Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Yesterday, Rusk's family helped to prove his words true when they adopted the black Labrador retriever in a retirement and adoption ceremony at the military working dog school here.

After Rusk, 20, was killed Dec. 5 in Afghanistan’s Helmand province by Taliban sniper fire, Marine Corps officials told Darrell and Kathy Rusk, his parents, that Eli, the young Marine’s infantry explosives detector dog, crawled on top of their son to protect him after he was shot.

The Rusks drove here from their home in Orange Grove, Texas, along with their sons -- Cody, 22, and Brady, 12 -- as well as Rusk's aunt, Yvonne Rusk, and his grandparents, Jan Rusk and Katy and Wayne O'Neal.

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jessy Eslick of the Defense Department’s military working dog research and development section handed the leash to the family, praising Eli as "a dog that brought Marines home to their families."

Eli immediately began licking Kathy Rusk's palms and fell into the arms of his former handler's father.

"In his last letter we got the day before we buried him, at the very top was a little smudge that said 'Eli's kisses,'" said the fallen Marine’s mother, who wore a two-sided pendant with a photo of her son on one side and another snapshot of him with Eli on the other. "[Colton] thought whatever was [his] was Eli's. "We're Colton's family, so it's just right that we're Eli's family now."

Eli, who was trained in the military working dog program here, reportedly is the second working dog the Marines discharged to permit adoption by a fallen handler's family. Cpl. Dustin J. Lee's family adopted his German shepherd, Lex, after the Quitman, Miss., Marine died from wounds he received in a mortar attack in Iraq’s Anbar province March 21, 2007. The corporal's family worked for nine months with an online petition and congressional help to secure the adoption.

Kathy Rusk said her family didn't have as many obstacles in their quest to adopt Eli. Texas Gov. Rick Perry started the process of working with the Marines on the dog's discharge, and Scooter Kelo, who trained Eli and also taught Rusk on working with the dog, also helped to make the adoption possible.

"It gets our mind off the sadness of losing Colton," she said, "just knowing we're going to have a little piece of Colton in Eli. I just wished he could talk and tell us some stories. Just to know we're going to be able to share the love we have for our son with something that he loved dearly."

Rusk joined the Marines after he graduated from Orange Grove High School and committed himself to the Marines the same week that his best friend, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Justin Rokohl, lost both legs in southern Afghanistan. Rusk deployed to Afghanistan on his 20th birthday, with Eli, as part of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, from Camp Pendleton, Calif.

"He wanted to be a Marine since he was 10 years old," his mother said of her fallen son. "We talked to him about maybe going to college first, but he said he had to fight for his country first."

Rusk often told his parents how dogs like Eli were well-trained here and in South Carolina, where he was trained as a bomb detector dog handler.

"We've had dogs all of our lives," Darrell Rusk said. "Since all of the boys were babies, they had one. Colton was probably the better handler of the bunch. When he went to train in South Carolina, he said, 'Dad, we don't know how to train dogs. These dogs here will bring you a beer, they'll open the can for you, but sometimes they'll drink it for you, too.' He said that was how well-trained the dogs were, and he was really amazed how much you can do with a dog once you've worked with them."

The dog Rusk liked to call "My boy, Eli" earned a reputation for wanting to be wherever his handler was. Eli didn't want to sleep on the ground; he slept in Rusk's sleeping bag. They even ate together outside after Rusk found out that Eli wasn't allowed to eat in the chow hall.

"He told a story of when they were in the chow line one time," the fallen Marine’s father said. "One of the Marines kicked at the dog one time and told him to get the dog out. Colton and the Marine got into a little scuffle. They told Colton he could stay inside and leave the dog outside, but from then on, Colton and Eli ate outside. That's how tight he and the dog were."

The family met Eli once when they visited Rusk at Camp Pendleton the week he deployed. After the retirement and adoption ceremony, the Rusks took Eli to their home on more than 20 acres of land, which he will share with the family, their horses and three German shepherds.

Jan Rusk said this was another way to honor her grandson’s memory, but it also will help the family as they continue to cope with their loss.

"Eli was a part of Colton, and now they have a little part of Colton back," she said.

 

Contact Author


Click photo for screen-resolution imageEli, a bomb-sniffing military working dog, was assigned to Marine Pfc. Colton Rusk, who was killed Dec. 5, 2010, in Afghanistan. Eli loyally stayed by his handler's side, even biting at Marines trying to move their fallen comrade. Rusk’s family traveled to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Feb. 3, 2011, after officials granted permission for them to adopt the dog. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III  
Download screen-resolution   
Download high-resolution


Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe family of Marine Corps Pfc. Carlton Rusk, who was killed Dec. 5, 2010, in Afghanistan, greets Eli, his bomb-sniffing military working dog at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Feb. 3, 2011. Defense Department officials granted the Rusk family permission to adopt the dog. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III  
Download screen-resolution   
Download high-resolution



Comments

Article is closed to new comments.

The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

2/14/2011 8:13:46 PM
I raised a chocolate lab from 8 weeks, and lived with him for 16 years. I miss him terribly. He was a buddy, a friend, a cohort, and above all - to all that knew him - we were inseparable - FAMILY. Just like with his Marine buddy Colton Rusk, my buddy slept with me. It couldn't be helped, it couldn't be stopped, he was meant to be there with you. He was part of who I was. Your Lab is your best buddy. All day. Every day. The Rusk's are one special family, and (though it might seem othewise now) one lucky family. Thank you for being so giving.
- Brian P, Indianapolis, Indiana

2/6/2011 3:40:52 PM
This story has my family in tears. We'll say prayers tonight for Carlton. And Eli, "Good boy, good boy"
- George Bounacos, Chantilly, Virginia

2/5/2011 2:42:06 PM
What a beautiful story. So glad the government made it easy for the family to keep this very important part of their son. It is obvious to me that Eli carries a part of Colton with him forever.
- Jackie, Houston, TX

2/4/2011 7:03:56 PM
I know that Eli is a part of PFC Rusk's family now because that is where he belongs. I think that their son could not be honored any more by his family then what they have done for his buddy Eli. God Bless you all and Rest in peace my Brother PFC Rusk. Thank you for your Service and I know that one day you and Eli and your Family will all be together in Heaven again. Thank you all for sharing this story and for what you all have done for your Son and Eli. Semper fi, Jon Bruce USMC 68-74
- Jon Bruce, Lancaster, Pa

2/4/2011 3:38:56 PM
We have raised 3 black lab,s and we have one now a male. His name is Boomer after the Trident Nuclear submarines. Their love is so eternal ,so giveing and so comforeting to those who have had them by their side in ones lifetime. This story is sad yes but the family is correct, their son is still by them through Eli. I to have lost a son at 20 years old but I know he is in a good place and someday I will be with him again for eternity. May the Heavenly Father comfort you in this time of sadness. You will heal from this and things will be ok again.
- Al Heffernan, New York

Top Features

spacer

DEFENSE IMAGERY

spacer
spacer