Kirkus Reviews QR Code
SERGEANT REX by Mike Dowling


The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog

by Mike Dowling with Damien Lewis with Damien Lewis with Damien Lewis

Pub Date: Dec. 13th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-3596-6
Publisher: Atria

Straightforward telling of an unusual wartime narrative: the reintroduction of the Marines’ Military Working Dog (MWD) teams to frontline combat for the first time since Vietnam.

With the assistance of Lewis (co-author: Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse, 2011, etc.), Dowling, who deployed to Iraq in 2004 with a German shepherd named Rex, notes that he and several others were “guinea pigs…we’re to learn how to take K9 units into the heart of war once again.” Upon arrival at the Marine base in the “Triangle of Death,” the author was dismayed to discover the dangerous, shifting nature of the Iraq war’s early years. Although commanders were initially bemused by the MWD teams, Dowling and Rex soon found themselves on combat patrols, where the author had to rely on the subtleties of Rex’s tracking abilities, but also protect him from gunfire and other hazards. Adding to the tension of the wartime narrative, Dowling breaks with chronology to look back at his working-class youth and the family issues that compelled him to excel in the military. He also examines the intricate training program for the dogs, underscoring the discipline involved in this arcane specialty and the bond between soldier and dog. While there are frequent moments of emotional button-pushing (including many imagined “observations” from Rex), Dowling’s approach offers a clear-headed view of the improvisational nature of combat in Iraq, and the brutal difficulties with which American military personnel contended. Fortunately, battle-hardened Marines quickly nicknamed the dog “Sexy Rexy” and adopted Dowling’s aggressive approach to the hazardous missions.

A unique testimonial from today’s professional, highly specialized military, with a clear extra appeal to animal lovers.