Meet Tequila, my best buddy while I served in the Marines in Afghanistan.
Tequila was my bomb dog. She had the best nose out of all the bomb dogs she served with.
In 2010, I was sent to dog handling school outside Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with 12 other grunts from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. We had to take a personality test to help pair us with our dogs. When the day came to receive the dogs our instructors felt were the best fit for us, we were all hoping to get for the biggest, baddest Labrador retriever.
I was the last one to get his dog that day. When the instructor pulled Tequila from the truck, I was crushed.
At just 29 pounds, she wasn't exactly what one pictures when you think of a devil dog. As a result, I was of course lovingly berated by the other Marines.
While we trained with our dogs on explosive and handling drills, it became clear that my Tequila was not only the smallest, but the alpha in the group. When it came to finding explosives, she could even sniff them out under mud and water.
I was not the only one who noticed, and the other Marines stopped harassing me. I spoiled her every chance I got because we all knew she was going to keep Marines safe from improvised explosive devices while on patrol in Afghanistan .
During our nine months in Afghanistan, Tequila and I did more than 600 missions together. She kept my brothers- and sisters-in-arms safe.
Tequila sniffed out every IED in her path. She never left my side — even when we took our first real shower after more than six months. We ate, slept, and fought next to each other every single day.
I always joked that I was the only person in Afghanistan with Tequila.
When we landed in Delaware after our deployment, we loaded up our dogs — our heroes — and they were driven off. Many were never to be seen again, including my Tequila.
I was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, but it was Tequila who really earned it. I felt guilty when I received the award because all I did was follow her safe paths. I also felt empty, because Tequila had become a part of me.
I tried to keep tabs on her so when she retired, I could adopt her and make the last part of her life as enjoyable as she deserved.
But this story does not end with a reunion. The last time I talked to the Marine contact for all bomb dogs, I was told that since my Tequila was so small and such a good bomb dog, she was taken by U.S. Special Operations. There was no way of finding her.
That made my transition out of the Marines that much harder. I felt like I left my battle buddy.
Thank you, Tequila, for being such a good and faithful Marine. Semper Fi.
Josh Hosler was a corporal with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. He deployed to Iraq in 2009 and Afghanistan in 2010. Hosler is now a small business owner in Colorado where he's running for state legislature.