Lance Cpl. Garrett Zeigler has returned home after sustaining injuries during a clash with the Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan June 12.
Prior to the gunfight Zeigler had spent three months in a town called Laki in Helmand, Afghanistan, sniffing out Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) with his black Labrador retriever Dixie.
IEDs are embedded everywhere by the Taliban and Zeigler said that they are a towering threat to the Marines' safety. According to the CBS news video "The Hunt for Roadside Bombs" - which features Zeigler and his dog Dixie - 8,159 IEDs were detonated or found in Afghanistan last year.
IEDs are often linked in "daisy chains" to go off at the same time, making them even more dangerous.
Dixie is one of 13 explosive canines keeping soldiers safe from the homemade bombs in Afghanistan.
"Dogs work 300 to 400 yards ahead of their handler so if they find an IED they can alert the Marines before they get in the danger zone," Terry McCarthy said in the CBS news video.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives website, Dixie had to train for 10 weeks and successfully identify 20 different explosive odors in a blind test before becoming certified.
Zeigler interviewed three times before becoming Dixie's handler and has now formed an inseparable bond with the dog.
"Once your dog saves a Marine's life, everyone loves her," Zeigler said.
Zeigler spent the rest of his time eating meatball marinara MREs (Meal Ready to Eat), laying on his cot watching DVDs on a portable player and fending off ambush attacks at his forward operating base "Karma."
Zeigler was composed, comfortable and even paradoxically charming as he spoke of the day his life almost ended. Using military jargon that was almost indecipherable, Zeigler dove into an unbelievable story of patriotism and valor.
After hearing of a Taliban attack on the police scanner, Zeigler and another soldier quickly discussed what they would do if the other was hit while setting up a defensive gun position on the roof.
The Marines were hit with an L-shape ambush, and after killing six enemies with a SAW (belt-fed machine gun), Zeigler was shot twice, one bullet landing millimeters away from his carotid artery.
Not being able to use his right arm because his humerus was fractured, Zeigler picked up his M4 rifle with his left arm and continued fighting while blood flowed down his flak jacket.
The other soldier picked him up and fled from the roof while still taking fire. Zeigler has nominated him for a Bronze Star, a medal awarded for heroic or meritorious achievement or service.
"Your life is all about the guy next to you, so you have to bond. You have to have a unit cohesion or it will all fall apart," Zeigler said.
Zeigler, with Dixie by his side, was evacuated by medical transport to Germany.
He returned to the states on July 19 and estimates that he has had 30 to 40 doctor appointments over the last month.
Zeigler is currently stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego where he will soon start physical therapy.
A Purple Heart ceremony will be hosted in his honor once he is off convalescent leave.
Dixie and the rest of his Marine unit are scheduled to return in November. "I'm going through withdrawals because my dog is still over there," Zeigler said.
Many of Zeigler's stories about the war involve Taliban manipulation and genocide on its own people to spread hatred of America. He said that most of the people in Afghanistan are merely trying to feed their families, and they join sides with whoever provides for them.
"What makes this war so hard is that you don't know who your enemy is because the Taliban wears no uniform. You could have a farmer right next to a member of the Taliban and you wouldn't even know," Zeigler said, adding that he believes there is no negotiating with the Taliban and that the United States should remain in the war to prevent another attack like 9/11.
His mother, on the other hand, feels differently.
"We have told the leadership in Afghanistan that we are pulling out in 2011, and I hope we are true to that time frame as we have had so many ... casualties in this war," Karen Gladstone said.
The 23-year-old Mountain Point High School alumnus is positive about his future, but reminders of his time in Afghanistan will forever cover his upper body. The Marine-core emblem along with a skull and rifles are tattooed on his arm next to the words "U.S. Marines Anti-Terrorist Operations" and he has healing scars on his jaw and shoulder at the points where the bullets entered and exited.
"I'm going to build a bridge and move on. I'm not going to dwell on it for the rest of my life," Zeigler said.
"The night we talked to Garrett he was happy and jovial. He looks great and is well on his way to recovery. Semper Fi to Garrett, Dixie and all their comrades and family," family friend Pat King said.
Erica Tiffany is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a senior at Arizona State University.