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First Name: Ross

Last Name: Gundlach

Birthplace: USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Date of Birth: 1988

Rank: Sergeant

Years Served:
Ross Gundlach

•  Afghanistan War (Operation Enduring Freedom) (2001 - present)


In mid-May 2013, Ross Gundlach, a former U.S. Marine Sergeant who served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, had been separated from Casey, a Labrador Retriever with whom he had forged a bond in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan's Helmand Province, sweeping roads for bombs, for 333 days.

About midway through (the tour in Afghanistan), Ross told Casey that if they made it out alive he would do whatever it took to find her. The pair were separated on 3 June 2012 after their tours ended. Gundlach left active duty, returned home, and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, WI, his hometown. Casey, 4, had finished her military service and had been sent to the Iowa State Fire Marshal's Office, where she was used to detect explosives.

But Gundlach always remembered his vow to Casey and began lobbying to adopt the dog. He traveled to Iowa, believing he would have to plead his case before a government committee to get Casey back. Instead, Gundlach and Casey were reunited in a ceremony on Friday, 17 May, attended by Gov. Terry Branstad, State Fire Marshal Ray Reynolds and other top state officials.

Gundlach wrote to State Fire Marshal Director Ray Reynolds, explaining the connection he felt with the dog. He even has a tattoo on his right forearm depicting Casey with angel wings and a halo, sitting at the foot of a Marine. "He's been putting a case together for the last two months, sending me pictures ... it just tugged on your heart," Reynolds said. Reynolds decided to arrange a surprise. First, he got in touch with the Iowa Elk's Association, which agreed to donate $8,500 to buy another dog for the State Fire Marshal's Office.

Then, Reynolds came up with a ruse to get Gundlach to Des Moines, telling Gundlach he needed to come to the state Capitol to plead his case in front of a "bureaucratic oversight committee." When Gundlach arrived with his parents, Reynolds told them the meeting had been delayed and invited them to join an Armed Services Day celebration in the rotunda. There, hundreds of law enforcement officers, military personnel and civilians were seated, keeping the secret — until they brought out Casey. When Gundlach saw Casey, he put his head in his hands and cried. She licked his face, wagging her tail furiously.

"I owe her," said Gundlach, who has adopted Casey. "I want to take care of her. ... I'll just try to give her the best life she can have from here on out." During the 150 missions they performed together, Gundlach said Casey never missed an explosive — she caught three before they could be detonated. He credits her for making it back home safely. "I wouldn't be here ... any kids I ever had wouldn't exist if Casey hadn't been here," he said.

Honoree ID: 3503   Created by: MHOH




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