Bringing part of Josh home: MWD of fallen handler adopted by family
By Cpl. Michelle Reif, II Marine Expeditionary Force
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Military Working Dog handlers often describe the bond between themselves and their dogs as unbreakable and everlasting. Their dogs are more than just their best friends; they are their brothers, an extension of themselves, comrades in arms. For the family of fallen Marine Sgt. Joshua Ashley, adopting MWD Sirius into their family was like reuniting with a part of their son.
2nd Law Enforcement Battalion retired MWD Sirius to the family of his former handler, in what is known as a passing of the leash ceremony, at the Ashley Kennels at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Feb. 26. Sgt. Ashley was killed in 2012 while he and Sirius were on patrol in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“In 2012, Sgt. Ashley was leading a patrol attached to a [Marine Special Operations Command] team out of Zombalay Village in the Helmand Valley,” said Sgt. Frederick Roethler, a friend of Sgt. Ashley’s who was deployed with him when he died. “Sgt. Ashley was doing his job clearing the route. He and Sirius were on point when Sgt. Ashley hit an [improvised explosive device]. Luckily, Sirius wasn’t hit and was okay. The biggest thing that I will take away is that Sgt. Ashley did his job and everyone else came home alive but, unfortunately, he wasn’t one of those Marines that came home alive. He gave all and that’s all we can ever ask for.”
Ashley’s friends and family describe him as a protector and as the type of person who always looked out for others and took them under his wing. His mother, Tammie Ashley, remembers him as the fun-loving life of the party.
“Josh, from the day he was born, was happy-go-lucky,” said Tammie. “He was the popular kid in school, he was the team captain.”
Sirius continued to serve in the Marine Corps after OEF. Roethler considered it a great honor to take over as Sirius’s handler and was glad that working alongside Sirius made him feel closer to his fallen friend. When it came time for Sirius to retire, Roethler and 2nd LEB agreed that there would be no better home for Sirius than with the Ashley family.
“He told me the last night before we lost him that he wanted to adopt Sirius and that he wanted me to take him until he was able to have him,” said Tammie. “So, ever since he passed away, we have always wanted to get him.”
Ashley’s family came to Camp Lejeune from their hometown of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. to attend Sirius’s retirement ceremony and bring him home.
“I think for Sgt. Ashley’s family to adopt Military Working Dog Sirius brings them a lot more closure,” said Lt. Col. David Hyman, the commanding officer of 2nd LEB. “As a gold star family, losing a loved one overseas in combat is a pretty tragic event and it has been several years now that they have continued to deal with that loss. Bringing Sirius back to them is almost like bringing back Sgt. Ashley.”
Those who worked with them could not have been happier to see Sirius return to Ashley’s family.
“Sgt. Ashley and Sirius are one and the same person, and that family needs to be brought together with Sirius,” said Roethler. “It’s amazing to see it finally happening and his family is able to have a little bit more closure and they get to have something else in their lives that will get to remind them every day of everything that they loved about Josh.”
And for Ashley’s family, they get to keep the little part of their son and brother closer to their hearts.
“It means that we get a part of Josh,” said Tammie. “My son was never able to have children. He always wanted children and I kind of look [at Sirius as] his child. So my son’s baby is coming home to me. That’s what [Sirius] is to me. He is going to be one of the family.”