Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune --
The first service dog trained by inmates at the Camp Lejeune Brig was officially presented to a wounded warrior Oct. 17, aboard base.
Rocio is an 18-month-old Labrador retriever mix. He is able to assist his owner by retrieving the phone, turning the light on and off and picking up items dropped on the ground or between furniture.
Although Rocio is able to aid Cpl. Christopher Gray physically, he provides his new master with another useful attribute; serving as a companion to the injured Marine.
“It’s always great to have someone next to you,” said Gray.
Gray was patrolling in Fallujah, Iraq, Feb. 17, 2007, when his Abrams tank was struck by two rocket-propelled grenades. One pierced the top of the tank, igniting the bulk of the ammunition, causing it to explode directly behind him.
Everyone inside suffered serve burns, however, Gray and the tank commander got the worst of it. He sustained third-degree burns on more than 50 percent of his body and since then he has been through multiple surgeries, including a cornea transplant.
Gray can no longer perform everyday tasks which once would have been simple. He can’t squat. To help him carry out these tasks, Gray was assigned Rocio to help in his recovery efforts.
Rocio was trained to assist Gray by inmates at the Camp Lejeune Brig. The program, which enables the inmates to train assistance dogs, was developed by Carolina Canines and began 10 months ago. The initial effort started with six dogs and is the first program of its kind in the country.
A select few inmates, based on their status and time left in the brig, train the dogs to perform tasks such as picking up objects and loading and unloading the washer and dryer.
Because the inmates train the animals, the program doesn’t cost the taxpayers anything, said Rick Hairston, president and chief executive officer of Carolina Canines. Normally one service dog would cost $38,000.
Although the program was designed to aide wounded service members, inmates at the brig are able to benefit from the program as well.
Training the dogs gives the inmates an opportunity to make-up for the mistakes they’ve made, said Rep. Walter Jones, state representative.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” said Gray, who appreciates the work put forth by the inmates as well. “But what they’re doing right now is awesome.”