By Jennifer Martin - email
John Cockrell was 19 years-old when he decided to enlist in the military.
"I joined the National Guard in Clinton, MS, the 114th Military Police Company. I was assigned there roughly four years. I decided I wanted to go active duty and then went and saw the active duty recruiter and he put me on a bird to Germany," said Cockrell.
His specialty: handling dogs trained to sniff out explosives. "While I was in Germany, I deployed to the Balkans, Kosovo, which was a 6 month deployment," Cockrell added.
It was a peacekeeping operation. "Then after 9/11, the OIF was in a good run for about 6 months. Then they requisitioned that some dog handlers be sent over there. And they sent out the tasker and I was assigned to the 6th MP Company, FT Rucker, AL, where I got the task to serve with OIF," said Cockrell.
He'd be part of Operation Iraqi Freedom for 10 months.
"There I was assigned to the 1st fleet which is the Marine Corp as they worked at the embassy," added Cockrell.
"It was kind of touchy at first. They were infantry background, us being MP. They didn't really know how to support the canine aspect. I was assigned to them searching all the vehicles that went in and out of the embassy grounds," Cockrell recalled.
He says mortars were always going off in the distance but he remembers one incident that was too close for comfort.
"We're on a checkpoint, searching vehicles at that time. It was right before the liberation of Iraq, right after they did the changeover for the government. I guess they decided to do a lot of mortar attacks that evening and one of 'em hit about 50 yards from our checkpoint," said Cockrell.
"Up until that time our mission was pretty docile, not a whole lot of stuff going on, doing the same thing over and over, searching vehicles, so I guess complacency may have overwhelmed us a bit. But the mortar rounds were hitting that close, it makes you step back and think about why you're here. "
He developed a close relationship with his dog, Billy.
"Everyday I was happy he was there with me. A dog's nose is a lot better than any computer equipment you have as far as finding explosive devices." Cockrell explained.
After Cockrell left Iraq, Billy was hurt, but their camaraderie continued.
"I got a call said Billy got hurt. Kennel Master Sergeant there was like I just wanted to know if you're interested in taking him home and at that time I wasn't even worried about the extent of his injuries. I just wanted to be sure I could get him and bring him back to the states," Cockrell said.
Cockrell now serves as a Drill Sergeant at Ft Leonardwood, Missouri. Billy is OK and they are still together.
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