Corporal Jose A., USMC, (Ret.)

Born in Los Angeles and currently living in a suburb of San Diego, Marine Corporal Jose A. always wanted to join the military.

“My grandfather served in the Army,” he said. “I grew up with him talking about that, and it really interested me. As I got older, I saw that the Marine Corps was the most challenging branch, so I enlisted right out of high school.”

“I wanted to do something I could be proud of,” Jose continues. “I couldn’t think of anything better than the Marine Corps: It represented honor and courage, and that’s what I wanted.”

See recent news articles about Jose:
National Geographic
The Dogs of War
Headline News
The dogs of war: America’s unsung heroes
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Jose entered basic training on July 29, 2007, moving on to combat training and more. “After combat training, I went to MP school for about four months,” he says. “I did pretty well there, and was selected to go to K-9 for another four months.”

In July 2008, Jose was assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. “We were supposed to go to Iraq in 2009; that’s when the drawdown happened. We started training for Afghanistan. Then, in 2010, I got orders to go to Japan.”

Jose was stationed with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa when he was assigned to Zenit, a 78-pound German shepherd born on Halloween in 2007.

“We use a few different breeds,” Jose explained. “German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Labradors. Zenit went through training for about four to six months, then got assigned to our unit, then we trained together.”

“Once a dog gets to the unit, we train for the location we’re going to and for what the enemy is doing in the area,” Jose continued. “For example, in Iraq they weren’t really burying the IEDs too deep, they were placing C4 on the side of the roads. Afghanistan is different; there aren’t many paved roads, so they’d bury the IEDs, and they were using homemade explosive.”

In June 2011, Jose and Zenit were attached to the 3rd Reconnaissance Batallion and deployed to Afghanistan’s Upper Sangin Valley in the Helmand Province—a location that the British newspaper The Guardian described in 2010 as “the deadliest area in Afghanistan.”

About two months later, on August 28, Jose’s life changed dramatically.

“Zenit was looking for IEDs and we came up to this large canal that we had passed numerous times,” Jose recalls. “It was about 10 feet wide, it was dry at this time. We took the hardest path into the canal—we figured that’d be the least booby trapped. EOD [explosive ordnance disposal] was with us and they found an IED about five feet from where we entered.”

“We proceed to move down the canal,” Jose continued. “I saw some wood and plastic and wires on the outskirts of the canal—yep, we got one. Anytime we find an IED, it’s a victory for us. I move forward, I’m looking around, I see another IED sort of planted the same way, at the root of a tree on the outskirts of the canal.”

“We’d found about four or five IEDs within about 60 feet of being in this canal,” Jose continued. “We come up on an embankment, we were 99 percent sure there’d be IEDs there. I take a few steps, I’m not sure it’s the second or third step—my ears are ringing, my body is feeling like it’s on fire, I can’t move a muscle, I have dirt down my throat, I can’t breathe. I know instantly.”

“The next thing I know, I’m waking up in Germany five days later, missing both my legs.”

Jose also suffered a ruptured right eardrum, wounds to both arms (he almost lost a thumb and finger) and a ruptured right testicle.

The Semper Fi Fund assisted Jose and his family with grants so that family members—including his wife of about a year—could be with him during his recovery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. “They were by my side for a month and a half or so, maybe two months; they couldn’t be at work, so the Semper Fi Fund helped them pay their bills. There’s nothing better in the hospital than seeing the people you love by your side.”

Jose got his prosthetic legs in May 2012 and took his first steps on them about two months later. He retired from the Corps in March 2013—he adopted Zenit (“he played a huge part in my recovery; he’s my partner”)—and returned home to California.

In March 2014 Jose and his wife welcomed their first child, a son, into the world, and Jose is studying business full-time at Columbia College. After graduation, he hopes to start up a business, ideally in security consulting.

“With every tragedy comes an opportunity,” Jose says. “I think I have a better perspective of life after this whole ordeal. Even through the hardest of times you can still find happiness. I can really appreciate certain things in life that I took for granted before.”