Bear Goes International and Meets Some Awesome Friends in Afghanistan 8/1/2013

The most amazing thing about blogging is getting to know the folks who read what you write.  I don’t mean the ones who pop in for a couple of days here and there.  I mean the loyal, dedicated folks who come back day after day to see what’s happening on Mackinac Island – the ones who stick with it – whether the words are as fascinating as fireflies or as boring as beets.

It’s also amazing to find that some of my readers don’t live in Michigan, or up north, or even in the U.S.  Some live in England and some in the Netherlands, Argentina, and the Philippines.  I find myself checking occasionally to see if a reader has signed on from a different country since the last time I checked.

Several months ago I learned that I had a reader in Afghanistan.  His name is Jason, and he and his beautiful wife, Sirena, were married on Mackinac Island.

Here’s a little of their story, in Jason’s words:

“My wife Sirena and I were married 12 years ago – June 8, 2001 to be exact – at Mission Point.  I grew up in Michigan.  I’m from the Flint/Davison area, and I remember all the times my grandparents took me and all of us kids (my cousins) to Mackinac.  My grandparents are gone now, but it has been said – yet to be verified – that my grandfather used to deliver milk via horse and buggy on the island at one time.  He was one of the last horse and buggy milk deliverers in the state.  As they retired they had a home in Gaylord on Otsego Lake, so we’d go there a lot but would always visit the island often.  My wife is a native San Antonio girl.  I was transplanted to TX via the US Air Force and decided that after my service time was up I was going to stay since I was tired of shoveling snow.  LOL!  I met this sweet lady when she was attending nursing school at the University of Texas Health Science Center, as she pursued a career to become a Registered Nurse.  The first year we dated I took her to meet the family.  It was big ordeal as we were having a family reunion on the island.  From the time she stepped off the ferry, it was like a kid in a candy store (literally with all the candy and fudge stores). So, needlessto say- and as you’ve said in several of your posts, Brenda – “the Magic of Mackinac” just grabbed her.  That’s all it took!  So it was a no brainer when we were married there and in 2011 we renewed our vows at Mission Point again.  The lady (Marie Steensma) who runs the Butterfly sanctuary is also an ordained minister and did the renewal of our vows for us next to the big tree nearest the Mission Point gazebo – right where we had our outdoor wedding before.  It rained that day and a Jamaican worker there told us that was a good sign for a happy marriage for the rest of our life………we couldn’t be more happy.  It was an overcast day most of that day with all the tulips in full bloom.”

Jason and Sirena -  renewing their vows at Mission Point.

Jason and Sirena – renewing their vows at Mission Point.

I only found out recently that Jason is the Kennel Master for all the dogs at his FOB who work in explosive and narcotic detection, thus managing the largest field based working dog kennel in the region. All of that explains his love of dogs and why he recently sent me this email regarding Bear’s latest blog post:

“Just wanted to share a photo I took of Bear’s story, printed and posted on my training board for all of my working dogs and handlers to read today. Good story – had me laughing, so I hope you don’t mind me sharing it with my troops.”

Bear's Blog Post on the bulletin board

Bear’s blog post on the bulletin board at Forward Operating Base Pasab located in the Zhary/Maiwand District of the southern regional command of Afghanistan

Well, Bear and I were so excited that Jason and his group (and their dogs) liked the blog that I asked him to tell me a little about what they do over there.

“All of our dogs are what we call dual purpose working dogs.  Meaning they are trained to apprehend suspects plus perform a detector capability such as explosive detection or narcotic detection.  Training is ongoing once the animal is selected.  Typically a good dog can be eligible to certify to the practical test standards within 60 days of initial procurement.  Some dogs take longer.  Training is repetitive and ever ongoing.  The teams that I manage must undergo 8 hours of training every week to maintain proficiency in addition to their normal duties and taskings.

Our company is based out of Lake Mary, Florida.  We have training facilities in Florida and in south TX.  Each dog is paired with its handler in the US and once certified they are deployed.  We certify our dogs (depending on contract) to the Department of Defense working dog criteria, State Department Criteria, etc.  You get the idea.  Whichever government agency we support we follow their working dog specific criteria to certify that given team.  We do our best to pair our dogs based on the dog and handler personalities, and the overall experience of the handler as well.  For example we wouldn’t pair a high drive Dutch shepherd with a person that has only worked US Customs Beagles.  So we try to match the work drive and character of the dog with the overall experience of handler.  99% of all of our dogs are European blood lines from Germany, Holland, and the Czech Republic.”

Last week Jason asked his team and their dogs to pose for a special photo to send so I could post it here, and he’s also sending me a signed copy of the photo in the mail.  I plan to frame it and take it back and forth with me from here to Georgia.  I am honored they would do this.

dogs4

Jason and his team. Jason is standing on the back row, in the navy blue polo shirt.

A huge thank you to Jason and his team and their dogs.  Your work together saves the lives of countless American troops and civilians.  God bless each of you.

P.S.  Jason no longer handles dogs himself, but the dog he did handle, Ben, is now retired and living in Texas with his wife, Sirena.  The two pics below show Jason and Ben in Afghanistan.

P1000557

P1000542

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44 thoughts on “Bear Goes International and Meets Some Awesome Friends in Afghanistan 8/1/2013

  1. What a wonderful story – a peek into what it’s really like there. It’s good to know that the armed forces are now paying attention to what happens to their retired canine soldiers – so glad Ben was able to go home!

  2. Jason, I just want to say “Thank You” to you and all the men and women, not only over there in Afghanistan, but wherever they may be stationed. You keep our country safe as well as those wonderful dogs. Keep safe and God Bless all of you.

    • (Big Smiles)….its just our job and chosen profession Julie, we are happy to do it.

      We have a saying in K9. “In God We Trust, With Paws We Bust”

  3. Dogs are amazing partners – not just in the work they do but the support they can provide for all around them. Thank you for your service and Ben too.

  4. What an awesome story!! Thank you Jason for everything you and your group do and what a great looking group it is. Your Ben is a beautiful dog and I’m sure he is loving his retirement. 🙂
    Thanks so much for sharing this with us Brenda, made me feel good this early morning.

  5. I love this story!! I have been a new reader for about a year now. My friend, Anne got me hooked! She is a Mackinac girl. I really loooooove your stories and all the great replies from people. I would often wonder if you had any idea how many people you touched! Thank you for such a lovely blog. It’s a bright spot in my week. Daphne Sjolander

  6. You were right Brenda, LOVED the post! 😊How awesome (as always). Thank you for sharing.

    Jason – thank you for your brave service to our country. I love the saying you posted in the comments above!

  7. My gosh….Brenda, did you realize how far reaching your loving columns would reach, or the impact they would have on this world? Jason, it is wonderful to read about the work of your teams, and it is great that, because of our common friend Bree, we all get to say thanks and perhaps whisper a prayer of gratitude and safe wishes. though many folks aren’t very complimentary about the impact the Internet has had on our lives, I like to think that there are more positive benefits, such as this moment. Brenda, if I knew what kind of medal or award I could nominate you for, I would! Thanks for yet another wonderful virtual visit!

  8. What a great post. I love reading about our military. Jason, Thank You so much for everything you do to protect us. I know in the hassle of our every day life, sometimes we all take for granted our military. It brings tears to my eyes every time I read about the enormous sacrifices our military must make to keep us safe.

    We will be arriving on the island in exactly one week. Keep the nice weather around for us, Brenda.

  9. First, Jason, thank you for your service. Please pass on our gratitude to your fellow soldiers and know you are always in our prayers. I can’t imagine a better story than one of our heroes and their hero dogs! I’m glad to hear Ben gets a great retirement back home in TX.

    Brenda…I never comment, but I just love, love, love your blog and I often read it out loud to my husband in the evenings. When I was a young girl, I always loved books about chatauquas and life in the 1800’s. When we moved to MI 7 yrs ago and toured Mackinac Island for the first time, I felt I had “arrived” in my picture-perfect make-believe books I once loved. Hubby and I have begun to dream of retiring there one day. I don’t know if we can make it a reality, but thank you. We have a little blog about life on Mackinac Island to thank for our new dreams.

  10. Thank you, Jason for sharing you story with us and your service to our country. You and your fellow dog handlers will be in my prayers.

  11. Well, this is one of my favorite posts, Brenda! I felt like I was reading an email between long-time friends. It’s really amazing how small of a world this planet really is. Like Jason, I grew up in the Flint, Michigan area…and my grandparents took us to the island every summer. For three years during my middle school years, we lived in Gaylord, Michigan…so we were even closer to the island and could visit more often. Now I live in Florida, just an hours or so drive from Lake Mary and the training facility Jason spoke about.

    I have enjoyed all of your posts about the island, and it’s great to know your words are reaching around the world.

    To Jason and his group of handlers and dogs…thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you do, both where you are now and at home in the states. God bless and be safe…

    PS My second favorite post is the same one Jason posted of Bear and his antics for treats. I never laughed so hard…

  12. Thank you all for the very kind words! Jststric, mentioned heroes…..naaaa Ben and I are not, but we have served with and know plenty.

    Again thank you all from my team, pups, and I. I promise Brenda and I had a great time chatting about this.

  13. This has to be one of my favorite posts ever! I taught obedience and agility classes for years and am in awe of those that work with service dogs, particularly military service. Thanks, Jason for sharing your story and for your dedication to our country. This made my day.

  14. Love this post! Thanks to Jason and his group (people and canine) for sharing their story with Brenda. Thanks to all our military who daily sacrifice so that we are safe and free. Thanks to Brenda for sharing this amazing story with all of us. And thanks again to Jason and Sirena for keeping Ben after his retirement!
    Now my question is, has Ben been to the island? Don’t you think he and Bear should meet? Bet they could share some stories!

    • Ben and our little French Bulldog have not been to the island yet, but it is planned. If we ever decide to road trip up there. Typically we usually fly up instead.

  15. Great story! I know we can’t thank people like Jason enough for all that they do, but I hope they know that we are 100% behind them and pray for their safety! It is so cute that Bear has an international following too!~

  16. Great story! We also married on the island in 2001 and it rained on our day too and I just think about the “good luck” it has brought us. What great looking dogs! We have a German Shepard too and we just love her. Thanks to Jason and the military and the trained dogs who also serve.

  17. Thank you Jason, for all you have done to protect us all. What is it about Texas? So many fine soldiers from that great state & all heroes. It is great to see how Michigan has remained an important part of your life & helped to create wonderul memories for you and your wife.

  18. wow! Thanks for getting us in touch w/Jason!

    It was awesome learning about your operation Jason. Thanks to you & all the others for serving. Thank you to the dogs too! 🙂

    “In God We Trust, With Paws We Bust”

    I love that! 🙂

  19. Brenda, what a wonderful story! Love intertwined throughout. I’m currently reading a book called “Suspect”, about a policeman and a MWD injured in Afghanistan. (I have to overlook the bad words to enjoy the underlying story!)

    Jason, from a fellow GSD owner and lover, your picture made my heart flutter!! Thank you for your service. I love to hear of the retired dogs going home with their family!

  20. Thank you for sharing this Brenda….thanks Jason, and thanks to all of the military and the dogs who and that protect us. the military is always in my prayers. God Bless all of you.

  21. People, pups and pals, are truly a special mix: ). God bless you Jason and Serina for taking care of all of us!!

    Brenda thanks for allowing all of us to share Jason and his team.

    Blessings,
    Theresa

  22. Oh my gosh! What an interesting article. Jason, thank you so much for getting in touch with Brenda and letting all of us be part of “your world”. The dogs in the photo are beautiful.

    I am a big lover of dogs and am the proud owner of a dog named Bear also who is a 100 pound German Shepard/Border Collie mix. He is definitely our furry child and we love him dearly. My husband and I took our Bear to the island and met Brenda with her Bear and the pictures I will treasure forever!

    I am sure that it must be heart breaking to leave your wife and Ben. I am not sure I could endure it. You are extremely strong and brave. God Bless!

  23. Thank you, Jason, for doing what you’re doing for me. I wish there was some way I could convey my actual appreciation, but thank you will have to do. One of our sons is retired from the Air Force, but for a while he was stationed in Germany, involved in flying supplies into Iraq, Afganistan and other countries in that area. I hope you and all the men and dogs who are serving with you will continue to be safe and return to your families as soon as possible.

    Thank you also, Brenda, for allowing us to learn a little from Jason.

  24. What a paw some post. A big thank you to Jason and his K 9 buddies. They are a beautiful and hard working bunch. Nice to see that Bear has become a world traveler, sort of like a flat Stanley. LOL remember those posts?

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