Cpl. Tick was a two-year-old, friendly black lab. She was a decorated Marine. And she was a hero.
Last year Cpl. Tick and her handler, Lance Cpl. Bryan Utrilla were attached to Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines at Combat Outpost Shir Ghazay near the town of Musa Qala in Helmand province Afghanistan, assigned to patrol the region for Improvised Explosive Devices.
Utrilla told me by email that Cpl. Tick was a natural when it came to getting the job done.
“Cpl. Tick was an awesome friend/Marine, and when she wanted to work, she worked,” he wrote. “She knew the difference between playtime and time to hunt for IEDs.”
Utrilla and Cpl. Tick had been together since October 2011, when 2/5 adopted the dog from the Southern Pines, N.C. company K2 Solutions. It was the first time the unit had ever brought in Improvised Detection Dogs.
For Utrilla, the five-week training course with the dog focused on learning to recognize her reactions and responses to the odor and residue of explosives, as well as proper cleaning and care for her.
When they arrived in Afghanistan in late February 2012, they got right to work.
“We went on countless patrols throughout the area, interdicting the Taliban,” Utrilla said.
A hard worker, Cpl. Tick was also a good friend.
“Best memories of her would be at night, she would dive into my bivvie sack headfirst and somehow end up by my face. If she didn’t have her nose by my face she would fight till she got there, then she would sleep,” Utrilla said. “Also at night random guys from my squad would come up to her and pet her while going on to the guard post or to take a leak. I think that really made the guys feel a sense of (being) back home doing so. Oh, and being outranked by a dog really had no effect on how we worked or played, it was more of a bond/friendship between both of us. If she could speak, though, I’m sure she would put me at parade rest!”
On May 14, they embarked on their last patrol.
The pair were on a mounted convoy en route to a well-known IED hot spot. The convoy stopped when lookouts noticed a disturbance in the road. Utrilla and Cpl. Tick were dispatched to check it out. Utrilla recalled that an Afghan National Army soldier had stepped on a five-pound IED not far from the location a few days earlier, and suspected this could be a secondary IED.
“Hunt it up,” Utrilla told Cpl. Tick, and she ran to obey.
Utrilla could see she was getting very close and about to “cover down,” indicating she was right on top of the explosives. Suddenly, the IED detonated.
Utrilla was shaken by the blast, but Cpl. Tick absorbed the worst of it. She was killed instantly.
“It was a pretty devastating loss to the squad, not only because she was probably the most dedicated dog out of seven in the company but also (because she was) a great friend to the squad. She definitely made the guys smile when times were bad,” he said.
For their brave work that day, which prevented the deaths of other Marines, Utrilla and Cpl. Tick earned a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation with combat V device.
“Despite the face that the device initiated and killed the dog, Lance Cpl. Utrilla and his dog achieved their purpose of preventing harm to the platoon of Marines and local nationals who routinely transit the area along the Landay Nawa Wadi,” the citation said.
Utrilla was quickly paired up with another IDD, but he never forgot about his first battle buddy.
On May 14, the anniversary of Cpl. Tick’s death, he and some friends will run up First Sergeant’s Hill to the famous memorial cross aboard Camp Pendleton to place her dog tags at the top. They will be the first tags from a military working dog to be added to the memorial, Utrilla said.