MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A U.S. Marine was reunited Thursday with the combat dog who was his partner and constant companion in Afghanistan.
After graduating from Jenison High School in 2008 Jeff DeYoung enlisted with the Marines. He finished boot camp and then DeYoung went to Smithfield, Virginia to train a dog named Cena to sniff out improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in combat.
The two would spend nine months alongside each other serving in Afghanistan, protecting their battalion from potentially deadly IEDs.
“Our main job was to be 50 yards in front of the point man, just clearing the route for us to walk. (Cena) was always in front of me, I was next to him with the guys to our back,” DeYoung explained.
Lance Cpl. DeYoung couldn’t help but bond with Cena.
“I spent nine months next to him in fighting holes, sleeping on the ground. He drank out of my water bottle. Everything that was mine was his. I had to share my food with him,” he said. “I had carry him across rivers, sleep next to him. I had to cover him with my body when we were under fire. Something like that, you build a brother bond and there is nothing you can do to take that away.”
But eventually, the time came for the two to part ways. DeYoung’s tour in Afghanistan ended. Cena was transferred to a new handler and eventually served another tour overseas.
DeYoung still remembers the last time he saw Cena before the separation.
“We got on the bus and drove away and he was still on the plane. And a half hour earlier, I was sitting across from him on a seat. So it was very shocking, and I didn’t deal with it well,” he said.
But Thursday morning, after four years apart, the two were reunited in Detroit.
DeYoung, who is no longer active-duty and now lives in Muskegon, said his wife encouraged him to check up on Cena, so he called the company that contracted the dog to the military.
Twice over four years, the company was able to provide him with updates about where Cena was.
Earlier this year, the company contacted DeYoung to see if he would like to adopt Cena because it was time for him to retire. DeYoung said he didn’t even have to think about it. He said yes even before asking his wife, he said.
The reunion was thanks in part to an organization called Mission K9 Rescue. It helps military members reunite with their combat dogs by assisting with the cost of transporting the dogs. Thursday, a member of the organization escorted Cena from North Carolina to Detroit to meet DeYoung.
==Above, watch their reunion.==