SCITUATE, RI (WPRI) - A trail that started near an exploding foot bridge in Afghanistan and wound through upstate New York will end with a tearful reunion in Scituate, where a retired Marine will be reunited with the black Labrador that saved his life.
"He was the one that saved, not just me, but all the other guys that were with me," retired Lance Corporal Bradley O'Keefe said.
WMD Earl is a retired Marine himself now, although his career was extended with important explosive detection work in Rhode Island. But this tale starts on April 14, 2010 when O'Keefe and his 3 rd Battalion 6 th Marines were approaching a nameless bridge somewhere in war torn Afghanistan.
"I told everybody to stop because I noticed that (Earl) was acting like there was something going on," O'Keefe said. "Once he got close enough to (the improvised explosive device) there was an insurgent that pushed a button and kind of blew us up."
We're told Earl bolted an estimated eight kilometers to O'Keefe's gear and waited for his master who never returned. The Marine's next stop was a hospital, where the injuries to his legs would require seven surgical procedures in five days and a bone graft operation after that.
Earl was reassigned but eventually became military surplus and part of a pool of dogs that are offered to law enforcement. O'Keefe didn't know that until his older sister got involved.
"He's my brother's friend," Rachel Lawson said, tears flowing. "And they saved lives out there and (Earl) became family."
Lawson tells us she and others tried to find the brave black Lab off and on after O'Keefe returned to New York to recover from his injuries.
"We just never got very far," she said, adding that O'Keefe's girlfriend, brother and former platoon leader also looked for Earl. "It sounds easier than it is."
In May, she turned to social media, setting up a Facebook page; Bring MWD Earl Home .
Within days, information was streaming in. The first key was someone who helped find out that Earl's military number was P-202 and that it was tattooed on the burly dog.
The number shortened the trail.
"First, we thought he was in Indianapolis," Lawson said.
But then the tip came that Earl was working in Rhode Island, acquired in November by state police through a military program that supplies dogs trained to detect explosives to police departments.
"He was an excellent asset for us," State Police Lt. Colonel Michael Winquist said.
Winquist told us the call that tied Earl to O'Keefe was a surprise but right away state police brass went to Trooper Damien Maddox, who was the dog's new master. The two went to a training school together in February and were on the job by March.
Their assignments included sniffing out potential devices in Boston the evening after the Marathon bombings. They also helped answer many requests in recent weeks to scan auditoriums and outdoor venues for local commencements.
"We left it up to trooper Maddox," Lt. Colonel Winquist said. "And he didn't hesitate. He said it was the right thing to do."
Lawson is ecstatic that her brother and Earl will be reunited.
"I wish we could get there yesterday," she said. "It's so exciting. I couldn't control myself. I was on the phone with (state police) and I just cried."
"I just want my buddy back.," O'Keefe said.
That will happen this Friday in a ceremony at state police headquarters in Scituate.
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