Smiling from ear-to-ear, a U.S. military sergeant was reunited with his four-legged best friend Friday: a contract dog that served side-by-side with him in Afghanistan.
With a whistle, clap and enthusiastic hello, U.S. Marine Sgt. Sam Wettstein reunited with his 3-year-old Labrador, Belle, at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field.
“Belle! Hello, gorgeous!” Wettstein called out as the Lab ran into his arms, licking his face. “Come here.”
The sergeant and his pooch served together in Afghanistan for seven months, watching one another’s backs and keeping each other company.
Together, Wettstein said they became a team trained to seek out Improvised Explosive Devices (IED).
Belle was trained to sniff out IEDs, while Wettstein was trained to sense and understand her reactions. He said their mission was to clear the way for following forces and make sure everything was safe for those coming behind them.
“She gives a certain change that I am supposed to focus on and realize what it is,” he explained, adding that the two were good at reading each other’s cues.
“She did her best, I did my best. When you’re both on the same page and you’re doing your job correctly things seem to look a lot better at the end of the day,” he added.
Wettstein said having Belle as his buddy while on deployment helped him immensely. It gave him something to care for while being away from home and missing his wife and family every day.
“It helped a lot. It helped me a lot to focus on Belle and her well-being,” he said.
Wettstein returned home a few months ago but had to leave Belle behind. He hoped the day would come when he would see her again.
Now, together once more, the Marine said reuniting with his dog just feels right.
“I was missing a part of me. I was trying to fill the void and now my void is filled,” he told NBC 7. “Having that kind of a relationship with a dog, you know, you get this bond.”
Wettstein’s wife, Jessica, said she’s grateful her husband was able to rely on Belle while deployed.
“Obviously it’s hard not to worry when they are in that kind of situation, but having a companion I think definitely helped,” said Jessica, adding that she’s excited to welcome Belle into their family.
“It’s an incredible opportunity. It’s meant to be. She’s obviously meant to be part of our family,” she added.
Wettstein said it’ll take a little bit of adjusting, but he’s confident Belle will love her new home.
“It’s going to take some reacquainting and some relaxing, but I think it will be a really good thing for all of us,” he said.
It is estimated that dogs like Belle save the lives of up to 200 troops during their service.
Organizations like the American Humane Association and Mission K-9 Rescue help connect these dogs with service members through generous donations.
Kristin Maurer of Mission K-9 Rescue said reuniting the animals with their military comrades is an important cause.
“It’s a beautiful sight. These guys deploy together – they’ve been through something that we will never understand. These dogs protected them day in and day out. They were their battle buddy and vice versa, so they have a deep bond,” said Maurer.
“They deserve to be together,” she added.
For these reasons, both the American Humane Association and Mission K-9 Rescue are lobbying Congress about the need to bring these dogs home. To learn more about Mission K-9 Rescue, click here.