MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY --
March 21 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Cpl. Dustin Jerome Lee, former K-9 handler at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany.
Lee, while attached to the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 6, II Marine Expeditionary Force, was killed in Fallujah, Iraq, March 21, 2007, during combat.
He was a native of Quitman, Mississippi, and 20-years-old when he died.
Mike Reynolds, operations officer and former kennel master, Marine Corps Police Department, MCLB Albany, said he and Lee shared a close relationship.
According to Reynolds, they instantly formed an unbreakable bond.
“Dustin and I became very close,” Reynolds said. “He was just like my son. I think about him just about every day. It's still hard. When I look back, it doesn’t seem like it’s been 10 years.”
Reynolds described Lee, who volunteered for the deployment, as being squared away and excelling in everything he did.
“He was a kid just trying to find himself, but he was a good ole boy from the South, a country boy that liked dog handling in the Marine Corps,” Reynolds said. “He was eager to learn and get better at his dog-handling abilities.
“(Dustin) had a high first class physical fitness test and was an expert in pistol and rifle qualifications,” Reynolds added. “He was in top shape and he made sure that his dogs were in top shape as well. He was the Marine that went that extra step.”
Reynolds recalled when he first heard about the death of Lee.
“I tried to think of what I could have done, as his kennel master, to prepare him better,” he said. “I have come to learn he was prepared. It just happened to be, the forward operating base was attacked.
“I had to keep (reminding) myself that he was prepared because he went on several missions and made several finds that saved many lives,” the former kennel master explained.
Reynolds recently attended a ceremony at Camp Pendleton, California, recognizing Marine K-9 handlers who died in the line of duty. Lee’s mother also attended the ceremony.
“The purpose was to honor fallen dog handlers during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars,” Reynolds said. “It was a time to fellowship with former and current Marine dog handlers and reflect on the fallen Marines and their service.”
Reynolds talked about Lee and all the fallen handlers during the ceremony.
“(This is) a sad morning but they are patrolling streets of gold right now,” he said. “They are heroes.
“(Each of) you have a very important mission and are very well respected in the community,” he added. “Continue to keep pushing forward and keep honing that skill.”
Even though Reynolds no longer works at the kennel, he encourages the kennel master and dog handlers to push themselves to the limits in their training.
In March 2010, the installation kennel was renamed Corporal Dustin Lee Kennel, in honor of the fallen Marine.
“My goal is to keep his memory alive, to remind people who were here 10 years ago and 10 years from now, the sacrifice he made,” Reynolds stressed. “(Dustin) not only protected the base, but he also deployed when each Marine Expeditionary Force needed dog teams in the service of the Marine Corps and nation.”
Lee’s military working dog, Lex, also sustained shrapnel wounds during the same attack, but made a full recovery.
Lex was adopted by Lee’s family December 2007. He passed away from cancer in March 2012.