News>Fallen Marine's family adopts his best friend
Brady Rusk, 12, hugs Eli, a bomb-sniffing military working dog, during a retirement and adoption ceremony Feb. 3, 2011, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. The Labrador retriever was assigned to Brady's older brother, Marine Pfc. Colton Rusk who was killed Dec. 5 in Afghanistan by Taliban sniper fire. Department of Defense officials granted the Rusk family permission to adopt Eli following his “retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)
Eli, a bomb-sniffing military working dog, was assigned to Marine Pfc. Colton Rusk who was killed Dec. 5 in Afghanistan by Taliban sniper fire. Eli loyally stayed by his handler's side, even biting at Marines trying to move their fallen comrade. Private Rusk’s family traveled to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Feb. 3, 2011, for a retirement and adoption ceremony. Department of Defense officials granted the Rusk family permission to adopt Eli following his “retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)
Kathy Rusk shows a pendant with a picture of her son, Marine Pfc. Colton Rusk and his military working dog Eli, a bomb-sniffing Labrador retriever. Private Rusk, 20, was killed Dec. 5 in Afghanistan by Taliban sniper fire. Private Rusk’s family traveled to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Feb. 3, 2011, for a retirement and adoption ceremony. Department of Defense officials granted the family permission to adopt Eli following his “retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)
Eli, a bomb-sniffing military working dog whose handler, Marine Pfc. Colton Rusk, was killed Dec. 5 in Afghanistan by Taliban sniper fire, greets Kathy Rusk, mother of the fallen Marine, during the Labrador retriever’s retirement and adoption ceremony Feb. 3, 2011, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Department of Defense officials granted the Rusk family permission to adopt Eli following his “retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)
The family of a fallen Marine greets Eli, his bomb-sniffing military working dog, at a retirement and adoption ceremony held at the Military Working Dog School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Feb. 3, 2011. Eli and his handler, Pfc. Carlton Rusk were in Afghanistan when the Marine was killed by Taliban sniper fire Dec. 5. Department of Defense officials granted the Rusk family permission to adopt Eli following his “retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)
Brady Rusk, 12, gets somber kiss from Eli, a bomb-sniffing military working dog, during a retirement and adoption ceremony Feb. 3, 2011, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. The Labrador retriever was assigned to Brady's older brother, Marine Pfc. Colton Rusk who was killed Dec. 5 in Afghanistan by Taliban sniper fire. Department of Defense officials granted the Rusk family permission to adopt Eli following his “retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)
by Randy Roughton
Defense Media Activity-San Antonio
2/3/2011 - LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- "Whatever is mine is his," Marine Corps Pfc. Colton W. Rusk wrote about Eli, his military working dog, in the final days of their deployment in Afghanistan. On Feb. 3, Private Rusk's family helped prove his words true when they adopted the black Labrador retriever in a retirement and adoption ceremony at the military working dog school here.
After 20-year-old Private Rusk was killed Dec. 5 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, by Taliban sniper fire, Marines officials told Darrell and Kathy Rusk, his parents, that Eli, his infantry explosives detector dog, crawled on top of their son to protect him after he was shot. The Rusks drove to Lackland Air Force Base from their home in Orange Grove, Texas, along with their sons, 22-year-old Cody and 12-year-old Brady; Private Rusk's aunt, Yvonne Rusk; and Jan Rusk and Katy and Wayne O'Neal, Private Rusk's grandparents.
Marine Staff Sgt. Jessy Eslick of the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Research and Development Section praised Eli as "a dog that brought Marines home to their families," as he handed the leash to the family. Eli immediately began licking Mrs. Rusk's palms and fell into the arms of his former handler's father.
"In his last letter we got the day before we buried him, at the very top was a little smudge that said 'Eli's kisses,'" said Mrs. Rusk, who wore a two-sided pendant with a photo of her son on one side and another snapshot of him with Eli on the other. "He thought whatever was Colton's was Eli's.
"Like Colton said, 'what's mine is his,'" she said. "We're Colton's family, so it's just right that we're Eli's family now."
Eli, who was trained in the military working dog program at Lackland AFB, is reportedly the second military working dog the Marines discharged to permit adoption by a fallen handler's family. Cpl. Dustin J. Lee's family adopted his German shepherd, Lex, after the Quitman, Miss., Marine died from wounds he received in a mortar attack in Al Anbar province, Iraq, on March 21, 2007. The corporal's family worked for nine months with an online petition and congressional help.
Mrs. Rusk said her family didn't have as many obstacles in their quest to adopt Eli. Texas Gov. Rick Perry started the process of working with the Marines on the dog's discharge, and Scooter Kelo, who trained Eli and also taught Private Rusk on working with the dog, also worked on making the adoption possible.
"It gets our mind off the sadness of losing Colton," Mrs. Rusk said, "just knowing we're going to have a little piece of Colton in Eli. I just wished he could talk and tell us some stories. Just to know we're going to be able to share the love we have for our son with something that he loved dearly."
Private Rusk joined the Marines after he graduated from Orange Grove High School, and committed himself to the Marines the same week that his best friend, Lance Cpl. Justin Rokohl, lost both legs in southern Afghanistan. Private Rusk deployed to Afghanistan on his 20th birthday, with Eli, as part of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
"He wanted to be a Marine since he was 10 years old," his mother said. "We talked to him about maybe going to college first, but he said he had to fight for his country first."
Private Rusk often told his parents how dogs like Eli were well-trained at the DOD Military Working Dog School at Lackland AFB, and in South Carolina, where he was trained as an improvised explosive device detector dog handler.
"We've had dogs all of our lives," Mr. Rusk said. "Since all of the boys were babies, they had one. Colton was probably the better handler of the bunch. When he went to train in South Carolina, he said, 'Dad, we don't know how to train dogs. These dogs here will bring you a beer, they'll open the can for you, but sometimes they'll drink it for you, too.' He said that was how well-trained the dogs were, and he was really amazed how much you can do with a dog once you've worked with them."
The dog Private Rusk liked to call "My boy, Eli," earned a reputation for wanting to be wherever his handler was. Eli didn't want to sleep on the ground; he slept in Private Rusk's sleeping bag. They even ate together outside after Private Rusk found out that Eli wasn't allowed to eat in the chow hall.
"He told a story of when they were in the chow line one time," Mr. Rusk said. "One of the Marines kicked at the dog one time and told him to get the dog out. Colton and the Marine got into a little scuffle. They told Colton he could stay inside and leave the dog outside, but from then on, Colton and Eli ate outside. That's how tight he and the dog were."
The family met Eli once when they visited Private Rusk at Camp Pendleton the week he deployed. After the retirement and adoption ceremony, the Rusks took Eli to their home on more than 20 acres of land, which he will share with the family, as well as their horses and three German shepherds.
Jan Rusk, Private Rusk's grandmother, said this was another way to honor his memories, but it also will help the family as they continue to cope with their loss.
"Eli was a part of Colton, and now they have a little part of Colton back," she said.
2/6/2012 5:34:26 PM ET My heart felt condolences for your loss, but also my congratulations for obtaining his dog. I lost my nephew in Iraq in 2003, but I come from a military family going way back. My brother and I are both Vietnam vets and back then they euthanized all of these incredible animals. I am glad for you and your family this is no longer the case. Praying for all our fallen patriots.
David Huffman, Sacramento CA
5/25/2011 12:38:36 PM ET What a great ending for this family's tragic loss and in the end ELI helped to ease the burden of the family. I am so glad the military now allows these heroic animals to have the chance to become part of a family. By allowing us citizens the opportunity to adopt one of these valued and hard working canines, we give back as well... These canines who are there to serve and protect our military men and women now have the chance to be on the receiving end where we can serve and protect them in their retirement.
Nancy, Houston Texas
2/8/2011 6:49:24 PM ET SSgt Air Force this is not just a dog. This is a small piece of Pfc Rusk that his family gets to have. From what it sounds like Both Pfc. Rusk and Eli spent every waking and sleeping moment together. They were there for each other at all times even if there was no one around. Dog lovers like myself could only hope to have such a loyal friend. Thanks to the Rusk family for raising such an awesome son who fought and unfortunately died for his country. Hopefully Eli will bring them joy for years to come by knowing when they see Eli they see a bit of Colton.
Bryan Kelley, Edwards AFB Ca
2/8/2011 3:28:34 PM ET SSgt AF you are so far out of line you can't even see it. These dogs and their handlers risk their lives on a daily basis. I have had the PRIVILEGE of taking care of both wounded handlers and their dogs in the AE system.
2/8/2011 3:23:10 PM ET Guess you never had a pet. They are more than JUST dogs. Great story.
Joe, Memphis TN
2/8/2011 11:19:15 AM ET My condolences to the Rusk Family for the loss of their son. I commend them for the adoption of Eli their son's best friend. I am disappointed in the SSgt's comments regarding the big deal. Maybe it is a way to have a part of their son through Eli. I find that a Big Deal
SMSgt Tom Puccio, Barnes ANGB
2/8/2011 9:59:22 AM ET It is just a dog people. Why is everyone getting so worked up about it. Its sad that the marine died but seriously. Wow they adopted a dog. Big deal.
2/8/2011 9:22:56 AM ET Sad and happy story at the same time, yea the part about another Marine kicking at the dog is just unecessary, but you come across those knuckleheads from time to time in the military but nothing a little wall to wall counseling wont fix, my condolences to the family god bless, SSGT USAF.
2/8/2011 1:34:08 AM ET All military working dogs are special. During my enlisted days I had three of them. Back in the early 70's adoption was not an option. All of these dogs deserve a good family in retirement years.Ted Covert LTC ret.
Ted Covert, USA
2/7/2011 9:31:57 PM ET Love to the Rusk family from a fellow Texas Marine Gold Star family. We hope Eli will bring many blessings to you as these next few years unfold. Since our son Sgt Byron Norwood was killed in Fallujah over 6 years ago, the Marine Corps family has been a tremendous testimony for us to the brotherhood he believed in so strongly. God bless you.
Bill Norwood, Pflugerville TX
2/7/2011 12:24:29 PM ET Wow..this story got me choked up. My prayers and with the family and my fallen Marine brother. Semper Fi.
james avila, san diego CA
2/7/2011 9:49:19 AM ET This is a very heart-warming, very emotional story. God bless the Rusk family for Marine Corps Pfc. Colton W. Rusk. God bless Eli, the newest member of the Rusk family and God bless Marine Corps Pfc. Colton W. Rusk. May he rest in peace. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Rusk, Cody and Brady for sharing this wonderful story. Even here on Guam when a soldier's life is cut short while he or she is out there defending our country that loss is felt. My family and I express our condolences in the loss of Colton and we congratulate you in the adoption of Eli. May Eli bring you a life filled with love and happiness that he carries on for and from Colton.
2/7/2011 1:09:35 AM ET Thank you for telling this story we need to hear more stories like this one. Letting us know the military do the right thing for our hero's like this young man that give his life for his country. My heart goes out for the Rusk family and Eli's for their loss.
Sandra Buckley, Kansas
2/7/2011 1:05:59 AM ET The story truly moved me. We need to know some good stories from our military that honor our hero's like this young man that give his life for his country. My heart goes out to the Rusk faimly and Eli's for their lost.
Sandra Buckley, kansas
2/6/2011 5:17:47 PM ET Being prior Active Duty and a MWD Handler's wife... I understand the demands and closeness of the dogs and their handlers. There is a tight bond. They become a part of your family. This was a very touching story. Thank you so much for sharing. Private Rusk was very brave and will not be forgotten. Adopting Eli was the right thing to do and Private Rusk would be proud. Makes me more proud to say I have served. God Bless you all.
Monica, Ilinois USA
2/6/2011 12:01:46 PM ET As I read this story I remember why I pray for the soldiers and their families every time I hit my knees. May God help you with the loss of your son. His selfless sacrifice as well as all the soldiers are why the U.S.A. is the greatest country in history.God Bless You.
Joe Jackson, Greenville SC
2/6/2011 4:27:59 AM ET It is such a relief to hear Eli is home safe. Our entire company was elated when we heard Eli was going home to the Rusk Family.
Lcpl Theiss, Helmand Afghanistan
2/6/2011 2:46:17 AM ET They need to make it mandatory that any handler killed in the line of duty or not that the dog AUTOMATICALLY be released for adoption to the family. A dog has only one handler in these situations and thus if their handler is killed the dog should go right to his family as his/her retirement. Never should a family have to fight to get their child's dog.
Karen Tolman, Saco ME
2/5/2011 3:27:40 PM ET May you find consolation in the memories and the love Colton leaves behind.
Anita, St. Augustine FL
2/5/2011 1:16:59 PM ET My eyes are full of tears by reading this message .Dear family, all my positive energy for you. Respect and may good people help you. Silentio et Fide. Mr. Nicolaas from the Netherlands, Europe.
Nico van der Veen , The Netherlands
2/5/2011 11:29:00 AM ET Thank God for heroes like Private First Class Rusk and Eli. It's truly fantastic that our military and government can do the right thing. I was astonished though to read that Eli was kicked by someone he was trained to protect. Bringing a dog into a chow hall might not have been the right thing but kicking Eli was just plain mean. I'm happy that he is with someone now who appreciates him. God bless this family for their service and sacrifice.
Gerry CMSGT, Illinois
2/5/2011 9:10:27 AM ET Being a dog lover myself, I found the part about eating outside so he could eat with Eli very moving. Awesome story. Thanks for reminding me why I serve. God Bless...
TSgt Michael Duell, Kabul AFG
2/4/2011 11:15:21 PM ET I am glad to see that Eli's arrival has helped to ease some of the pain felt by the family. It is also nice to see the increasingly humane and honorable treatment given to military working dogs. It is good to see we have come a long way since Vietnam when they were all euthanized rather than brought home.
2/4/2011 10:35:59 PM ET My thoughts and prayers go out to the Rusk family. May that precious creature bring as much comfort in your lives as possible. May God grant you the strength to move forward in life and to always stand up proud for your son. Russell K, Retired USAF. GOD SPEED TO ALL
Russell K, florida keys
2/4/2011 10:22:48 PM ET Rest in Peace brother. A great deed the USMC has done.
David Holman, Fayetteville AR
2/4/2011 9:35:15 PM ET Semper Fidelis
MSgt., Robins AFB
2/4/2011 2:02:16 PM ET Dear fellow Americans. Please thank a servicemember today in honor of Private First Class Rusk and his K-9 Marine Eli. May God Bless his Family this Nation and the United States Marine Corps. Semper Fi
Alfred T. Valero, Eielson AFB AK
2/4/2011 1:17:35 PM ET Thank you for publishing such a heart warming story. May God bless our service members like the brave and courageous Pfc. Rusk and for the loyalty and devotion of dogs like Eli for keeping us safe and free. What a pair of heroes they made. May God bless the Rusk family as they suffer the loss of their wonderful son. Thanks to the Marine Corps, too, for allowing them to adopt Eli and give him a forever loving home.
Gene Lane, Fairfax VA
2/4/2011 8:29:24 AM ET Rest In Peace, Private Rusk. You are in good hands now. And Eli is right where he should be.
2/4/2011 5:21:38 AM ET Thank YOU for sharing this with everyone. My heart goes out to the family. I know how much this must mean to this family, having a piece of their son back through the dog he loved so much. May you all find peace. Thank YOU to all who serve near and far.
Anne Rasmussen, Stuttgart Germany
2/4/2011 12:37:57 AM ET Both of them are so brave. Sending love and prayers for the family in time of healing. Sorry for your loss.
2/3/2011 11:48:31 PM ET My heart goes out to the friends and family of this Marine. I hope Eli enjoys a long and happy life in his new home
2/3/2011 11:47:00 PM ET Eli loved Pfc. Rusk and immediately defended his human when he was down. Thanks to the Rusk family for their son's unselfish sacrifice. And thanks to them for adopting their son's best friend.
TSgt Ethan Meldrom, SandyLand
2/3/2011 11:14:57 PM ET This story brought tears to my eyes. How tragic that this family lost their son at such a young age. I hope Eli helps them find comfort and serves as a reminder of what a Hero Colton was
Rhett Larsen, Salt Lake City UT
2/3/2011 11:04:39 PM ET An incredibly heartwarming story. God bless Private Rusk's family and may they have many happy years with Eli Thank you for sharing this and for allowing the dog to be adopted by his handler's family.
Kelly G in ATX, Austin TX
2/3/2011 10:06:10 PM ET It makes my hear sing to think how much this dog loved your son. His devotion is being rewarded by your loving family. Thank you from a dog lover.
cecelia moreno, oceanside ca
2/3/2011 9:26:22 PM ET Our condolences to the Rusk family on their son's loss and may Eli help you heal. We can't really ever repay you your sacrifice.... ...forever grateful, forever indebted to you. The Rowley family
Katherine Rowley, Albany NY USA
2/3/2011 9:20:05 PM ET This is the most heartfelt story of a man and his beloved dog Eli. I know you must be so proud of your son Colton. I never met him but I would like to express my thank you Colton for protecting me here in Lillian, Alabama, as I slept peacefully while your life was a risk. May you RIP. I am so happy that Eli comes home with his master's family and loved by all of you.
Galenda Mott, Lillian Alabama
2/3/2011 8:17:42 PM ET This is such a great story. I am sorry for the loss of another young Marine but I am glad that his family is honoring his memory and taking in the best friend he had. Thank you to the Rusk family from the family of an active Army man.
rebecca valdez, nv
2/3/2011 7:32:58 PM ET And that, folks, is LOVE
Kathleen Matthews, Washington State
2/3/2011 7:19:13 PM ET Great story. Thanks for publishing it. My thoughts and prayers to the Rusk family and all who have lost a loved one during OIF and OEF.