Many U.S. soldiers that serve alongside four-legged comrades often find that their time together is cut short. It’s not uncommon for military dogs to be separated from their handlers after deployments end.
While many of these servicemen and women try desperately to adopt the dogs that they’ve worked with, the harsh reality is that it doesn’t always go as planned. Mark Lee Jr. knows the struggle all too well.
Partners In War Separated By Circumstance
Lee served in the United States Army as part of their bomb detection team. He was injured in Afghanistan in 2012. Little did he know that his wounds from that deployment would go much deeper than the physical scars.
Rayco was Lee’s partner that served alongside him in Afghanistan. When Lee left Afghanistan after his 2012 injury, he had no idea it would end up being the last time he saw his four-legged best friend.
While Lee had already retired, Rayco remained a working dog. He finished out his service working with the U.S. Capitol Police after his time with the Army was complete. Lee tried desperately to be reunited with Rayco but it seemed like he faced one hurdle after another.
Sadly, Lee and Rayco’s story isn’t unique. A 2018 report found that the Army mismanaged the adoption of over 200 military working dogs. That means there were over 200 dogs and 200 soldiers who were left heartbroken without the opportunity to be reunited. Sure, the bonds they made in the face of war were unbreakable but many soldiers still longed for the chance to have their partner by their side.
Now It’s The Civilians’ Turn To Come The Rescue
Justice for TEDD Handlers was started by a modest group of civilians to help soldiers and military K-9s be reunited. TEDD stands for Tactical Explosive Detection Dog, which is exactly what Rayco was. The group came to the aid of Lee at a time when he needed it most.
The veteran was struggling as his life after the Army seemed to be spiraling out of control. Lee found himself behind bars and eventually in rehab.
“I didn’t do too well,” Lee told KOAA News. “I guess everything kind of caught up with me.”
Lee was told that Rayco had watched an interview that he did on the news while he was trying to be reunited with Rayco. That’s what prompted USCP technician Stephen Nunn to contact Justice for TEDD Handlers. He knew how crucial it was to reunite both veterans.
“It’s been 180 degrees since then, as you can see, I got my best friend back,” said Lee.
Lee and Rayco had a happy ending when they were reunited in Washington, D.C. They had some catching up to do, but the pair seemed to fall right back into place like a missing puzzle piece.
“He still has his working harness so if I pull it out of my backpack or pull it up, he goes crazy because he thinks he’s going to get to go work and have some fun,” said Lee.
Lee And Rayco Are Partnering Again To Serve Their Fellow Soldiers
Lee and Rayco’s time serving their country and comrades isn’t quite done yet. They’re making a move to Texas to work alongside Mission K9 Rescue. Lee and Rayco will help rehabilitate military working dogs who suffer from PTSD in hopes that they’ll find their past handlers or new forever families.
They’re still getting used to civilian life together and with a dog like Rayco, every day is a new adventure.
Justice for TEDD Handlers has reunited a dozen handlers and military working dogs. Perhaps most importantly though is the change they enacted within the military itself. Their efforts have made sure that retiring K9s and veterans will have a fair chance at reunification before anyone else.
If you’re interested in helping other veterans have a second chance like Lee and Rayco, click here to find out how you can help.
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Featured Photo: @MarkLeeJr/Facebook
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