Sgt. JonPaul Perry, assigned to the 69th Military Working Dog Detachment in Fort Carson, Colo., and attending training at Fort Leonard Wood, kneels next to Rex during a past deployment to Afghanistan.

Fort Leonard Wood’s Military Police Memorial Grove is normally a place where tribute is paid to those military police Soldiers who gave their all in serving their country.

However, last Sunday the sacred ground – framed by the synonymous crossed pistols of the Military Police Corps – was the backdrop for a reunion of two living military police warriors. Sgt. JonPaul Perry, a military working dog handler attending training at Fort Leonard Wood, was reunited with Rex, his explosive detection German shepherd partner during three deployments to Afghanistan totaling six years. Perry’s parents, his classmates and Mission K9 Rescue, arranged the surprise reunion.

“It’s amazing how fast they retire,” Perry said of Rex moments after the two met in a scene filled with pats and wet face kisses and after Rex refused a command to sit from his former handler. “You’ve gotten fat, but you’re going to have a good life with my mom for a few months.” A native of Tok, Alaska, Perry is assigned to the 69th Military Working Dog Detachment in Fort Carson, Colo., and is at Fort Leonard Wood attending the new Patrol Explosive Detector Dog Enhanced Course. He is scheduled to graduate in November.

“I think we’re like an old married couple – I know him, and he knows me,” Perry said. “We’ve been through some hot stuff together, and I owe him.”

Perry applied to adopt Rex after leaving Germany a year ago when he found out his partner was tagged unable to continue serving his country due to hip problems common to his breed. He knew the adoption was approved and Rex was in the United States, but he didn’t know his combat partner was being transported to Fort Leonard Wood.

A major player in the clandestine operation was Sgt. 1st Class Charles Shepker, PEDD-E Course manager, who was Perry’s former kennel master in Germany. The surprise plot involved Shepker telling Perry’s class they had a special project at the MP Memorial Grove.

With the parents and relatives in hiding when Perry and his classmates strolled in, Shepker emerged with Rex straining on his leash, pulling to greet his longtime master.

“They were an outstanding dog team,” Shepker said. “When you talk about a Soldier who is totally dedicated to being a dog handler and one who loves his dog, that’s Sgt. Perry.”

Shepker, a Phoenix native, said it is rare for a dog and handler to serve together for such a tenure and even more so out of the ordinary that the handler gets to adopt the dog.

“Having a dog team paired for such a long time is almost unheard of – just because every three years, due to PCS, the team is broken up,” he said. “Perry is fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend two tours in Germany at the same kennel with the same dog. I know how much he loves that dog. To see him being able to care for Rex for the remainder of his years is really a great thing.”

Perry’s mother, Sandra, said she was on the verge of tears seeing the two together.

“JonPaul and Rex are meant to be together,” she said. “The bond between them is fantastic.” Sandra, who lives in Thayer, should know. For the past 12 years, she and her three search and rescue dogs offer their services, free of charge, to the Warrenton Fire Department and other law enforcement agencies in the St. Louis metropolitan area.

“You can have your worst day and, when you go out with your dog, you’re better,” Sandra said.

Sunday appeared to be a good and better day for Perry who displayed little emotion, except to Rex. “My son might not show it, but I know how excited he is,” she said. “It’s more inside, but I know he is now content and very happy.”

Perry’s second biggest hug, other than to Rex, was to Kristen Maurer, Mission K9 Rescue president, who has spent the last two weeks housing Rex and arranging transportation for him to join Perry. Her non-profit organization, based in her hometown of Houston, Texas, arranged transportation to fly Rex from Germany to Houston. Maurer travelled by van to complete the delivery.

“This is touching and heartwarming,” Maurer said, noting all of her nearly 20 yearly deliveries are special. “Rex and JonPaul have spent so much time together – more than most dogs and their military handlers. They’re back together, and that is how it is supposed to be. I’m just honored we get to do these reunions and placements. We’re so grateful for their service.”

Rex served during four Afghanistan deployments with more than 250 combat missions, countless VIP and secret service security missions, according to Perry. The two deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

In all, according to Perry, he and Rex were credited with conducting more than 200 combat patrols while locating multiple IEDs and enemy weapons caches. After their last tour was shortened due to an injury to Perry, the pair returned to Germany where military veterinarians determined Rex, only 9 years old, would be unable to serve due to hip deterioration. “I don’t know what he’s going to do anymore (in retirement), as he’s been working his whole life,” Perry said. “He can get as fat as he wants and sit on as many couches as he wants – just whatever he wants to do. He’s the best dog I ever had and the best dog I ever will have.

“Now, he’s going to be mine for the rest of his life. I owe him that.”

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