You are here:  Home  > 
Warning: Use of undefined constant single - assumed 'single' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /home/customer/www/thevistapress.com/public_html/wp-content/themes/dailypress/include/breadcrumbs.php on line 38

Warning: Use of undefined constant ai1ec_event - assumed 'ai1ec_event' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /home/customer/www/thevistapress.com/public_html/wp-content/themes/dailypress/include/breadcrumbs.php on line 38

Warning: A non-numeric value encountered in /home/customer/www/thevistapress.com/public_html/wp-content/themes/dailypress/include/breadcrumbs.php on line 38

Warning: Use of undefined constant single - assumed 'single' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /home/customer/www/thevistapress.com/public_html/wp-content/themes/dailypress/include/breadcrumbs.php on line 54

Warning: Use of undefined constant ai1ec_event - assumed 'ai1ec_event' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /home/customer/www/thevistapress.com/public_html/wp-content/themes/dailypress/include/breadcrumbs.php on line 54

Warning: A non-numeric value encountered in /home/customer/www/thevistapress.com/public_html/wp-content/themes/dailypress/include/breadcrumbs.php on line 54
Calendar >  Saved Twice – by Thomas Calabrese

Saved Twice – by Thomas Calabrese

By   /  January 12, 2015  /  2 Comments


veteranswritingBy Thomas Calabrese  …. Casey was three years old. He was half Rhodesian Ridgeback and half American Pitbull. He was jet black with a white blaze on his chest. Casey combined the athletic endurance of the Ridgeback with the strength and power of the bully breed. It wasn’t just the physical characteristics that made Casey special, it was also his high intelligence.

He was assigned to a Marine infantry unit with his handler. It didn’t take long for Casey to prove his value. His sense of smell was so acute that he could smell cleverly concealed enemy at great distances. Casey had also been trained to detect the distinctive odor of various explosives. On several occasions he warned patrols of imminent danger.

When his handler Sergeant Nettles broke his femur bone in two places after being hit by a truck back at camp, it was decided that Casey was too valuable to go back to the states with him.  It was unheard of  for a combat canine to operate without a handler, but Casey was not just any dog. Each day Casey would be waiting by the gate for the squad that was assigned to patrol the area. He always walked twenty paces ahead of the point man so that he had ample time to warn those behind him. When they returned, Casey would retreat to his makeshift shelter which consisted of a wooden crate and several blankets and wait for the next mission. This was his life.

Sergeant Dan Mitchell had just arrived for his third tour in Afghanistan and was only on his second patrol. He should have never been back in a combat zone, but Dan was too stubborn to admit he needed help so he kept his issues secret. His eyes darted from side to side and his head might as well have been on a swivel for as many times as he snapped his head in the direction of each sound. Finally Lance Corporal Buehler commented with a half smile. “Easy Sergeant,  you’re going give yourself whiplash.”

The patrol came under heavy small arms fire as it crossed the open field near the village.  Sergeant Mitchell couldn’t see the enemy, only muzzle flashes. The bullets whizzed all around him as he hit the deck.  The screams of his fellow Marines getting shot echoed through his brain. Sergeant Mitchell put his hands over his ears, but their anguished cries only grew louder.

The frantic radioman yelled into his mouthpiece. “Any units in the area. This is Hotel three seven. We are taking heavy fire!  Grid coordinate, 15819er,  Broken Arrow! Broken Arrow! Repeat Broken Arrow!!!!” Broken Arrow is the military distress call for; about to be overrun.

Casey’s squad heard the distress call and Sergeant Frost ordered.”  Check your weapons and ammo! We’re two clicks away. Double time!”

Casey was off in a full sprint. He waited on a small hill for the patrol to catch up as he scanned the area of engagement. Sergeant Frost walked up next to Casey. “Looks kind of bad, huh? Well they don’t pay us the big bucks to sit and watch.”

No sooner did Sergeant Frost and his squad start to move in that they came under mortar fire from the enemy who were waiting in ambush for American reinforcements. Casey knew that the trapped Marines as well as his squad were doomed unless things changed in a hurry. He began running in a zigzag pattern toward the mortar emplacement. Just as the enemy fighter was ready to drop a mortar round down the tube, Casey bit his hand off at the wrist then knocked over the tube and continued running. The mortar exploded  killing all four Taliban fighters.  With his speed, the enemy could not get a clear shot at him, One Taliban fighter sprayed a machine gun burst at Casey and ended up shooting two of his own men.

Sergeant Mitchell crawled on his stomach toward a mound of dirt as the first bullet went through his right calf, the second pierced his upper left arm while the third caught him in the lower back missing his spine by a mere half inch. Casey was an unleashed weapon of death and the men he attacked were no match for his strength and ferocity. When Casey looked over to his right and saw a Taliban fighter standing over an injured Marine. He took off at full speed and launched himself into the air with his powerful hind legs. He caught the enemy fighter around the throat and nearly ripped his head off. The remaining Taliban began to retreat.

Casey saw how much blood Sergeant Mitchell was loosing from his back injury so he laid over the wound and stayed there until a corpsman came to administer lifesaving aid.

After the battle, Marines searched the dead enemies combatants and the wounded. The count was eleven dead and seven seriously injured.  A few had their carotid or femoral artery severed open by Casey’s teeth. The numerous crimson spots on the white barren ground was graphic evidence to how much blood was shed on this day.

Corporal Dorsey saluted Casey. “Semper Fi, Devil Dog.”

An embedded photojournalist took graphic photos of the dead combatants and posted them over the internet. Once the politically correct liberal media saw them, they screamed for the removal of Casey from the war zone. His brutality reflected badly on the United States or so the bureaucrats said. The enemy could torture and behead Americans, but what was Casey did outraged the world. The hypocrisy of the situation had Marines shaking their heads in disgust and cursing the pinheads in Washington.

Sergeant Mitchell was medivaced to Landstuhl military hospital in Germany where he had underwent several surgeries for his wounds. Afterward he was transferred to the Camp Pendleton Wounded Warrior barracks for rehab therapy.


It wasn’t long after Casey arrived at Pendleton that he became a favorite of Marine dog handlers and animal caretakers. He wasn’t just a dog, he was a seasoned combat veteran who had earned their respect and admiration by his actions. Casey remained docile and obedient even though he was never meant by nature or his training to be locked in a kennel. He was a free spirit and a creature meant to make a difference.

Eventually the orders from Headquarters Marine Corps arrived.  Casey posed too great risk to public safety and should be put down at the first possible opportunity.

Sergeant Mitchell was looking for answers to ease his pain. One of the therapies suggested to him was to write his feelings down and look at the words. It was supposed to help transfer abstract ideas to things that could be seen and touched. Another recommendation was to attend the monthly meetings of the Veterans Writing Group of North County where he could hear about other veterans’  experiences.

Casey sensed from the way that the Marine dog handlers looked at him that something had changed. His keen instincts told him that he was in danger and it was time to leave. When feeding time came, Casey waited until the attendant opened the gate to his kennel. There would be a couple seconds when the latch would be unsecured. That’s all he would need. As soon as the attendant bent down to put the bowl on the floor, Casey leaped over him and ran down the hallway. When he came to the exterior door, Casey slammed right into it, breaking the door jam then charged into the heavy brush that surrounded the animal shelter.

The animal caretaker caught a glimpse of Casey disappearing into the foliage. “Good luck boy. I hope you make it.”

Sergeant Mitchell was expected to make a full recovery from his physical injuries, but his emotional and mental issues were a different story. There seemed to be no cure for them no matter how many things he tried.  There was a constant ache in his heart, a feeling of isolation, nightmares and recurring thoughts about suicide. He didn’t want to surrender to his self destructive feelings, but wasn’t sure how much longer he could hang on.

Casey was not only a warrior, but a survivor so he had little problem adapting to the urban environment around Oceanside. He scavenged food from restaurants and supermarkets and quickly learned how to turn on the exterior faucets on houses whenever he was thirsty. He also had the timing down on automatic sprinklers around town whenever he wanted to clean himself or cool off. He found an abandoned wooden shack near the San Luis Rey Mission to sleep at night. His instincts told him that there was something more out there for him.

Sergeant Mitchell had been attending the Veterans Writing Group for two months. The group discussed Phillip Klay’s Redeployment at the last meeting and would be talking about T Jefferson Parker’s Full Measure this month. There were things he wanted to share with the other veterans, but didn’t feel comfortable exposing that vulnerable part of himself just yet, but maybe someday.

Casey saw the two coyotes as he looked out over the tall grassy field. He sensed their fear when they finally notice him. He made no aggressive move and they continued on their way. It was almost 10:30 am when Casey’s instincts told him he needed to be somewhere. He ran over to the bike trail that paralleled the river, crossed at the Oceanside Airport to Highway 76 then up Canyon Drive to Mission Avenue. He felt he was getting closer to his destination.

Sergeant Mitchell stopped at the light and waited to turn off  Mission Avenue to the Veteran Center building.  He looked over and saw a dog sitting in the parking lot of a discount furniture store and immediately flashed back to the day he was wounded. He had blocked out those painful memories, but now they were back, not vague, but vivid in detail. The fog of combat had lifted and Sergeant Mitchell remembered how his life was saved that day by a dog.  Only when he heard the car honking behind him did his mind return to the present. When he looked again the dog had disappeared. The realization sent a shiver down his spine. Sergeant Mitchell doodled on his notepad while he half listened to the other veterans.  Without noticing he kept writing the word Dog over and over until the blank sheet of paper before him was full. When the meeting concluded, Sergeant Mitchell was the first one out the door. He took a deep breath, walked to his truck, opened the door and set his notepad on the dashboard.  What was happening to him? Could it be that he was losing touch with reality. The past and present had blurred into one.  Something raced past him and the next thing Sergeant Mitchell realized was Casey sitting in the cab of his truck. As soon as their eyes met, they transcended the boundaries between man and dog.   Sergeant Mitchell felt himself being pulled back from the depths of despair as Casey raised his paw and placed it on his leg.  The overcast skies slowly began to clear as Sergeant Mitchell drove west toward the ocean.  He struggled to comprehend how the same dog from Afghanistan was now sitting next to him. How could it be? There had to be an answer. A single ray of sunshine hit the notepad setting on the dashboard.  It inverted the letters of the word Dog and reflected it clearly onto the windshield.  Sergeant Mitchell looked up at the blue skies above him and whispered “Thank you.” Casey’s bark at the same time seconded the sentiment.

Thomas Calabrese is a member of the San Diego Veterans Writing Group

Writers meet monthly for meetings

Writers meet monthly for meetings




Do you want more news like this? We're supported by our subscribers and readers!


  1. Mona says:

    This is a wonderful, well written story!!!

  2. Guy Warren says:

    I read Lebo and now I’ve read Saved Twice…Both are really good. I’m going to read the rest of Mr. Calabrese’s stories

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You might also like...

Carlsbad City Manager

Read More →