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.”
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.”
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.
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.