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St. Francisville Marine reunited with dog after Afghanistan tour

Jared Heine was recently reunited with Spike, the bomb dog he handled while on tour in Afghanistan. (Tim Givens / The Natchez Democrat)

Jared Heine was recently reunited with Spike, the bomb dog he handled while on tour in Afghanistan. (Tim Givens / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Jared Heine sat comfortably in his chair with Spike, his best friend, lying calmly at his feet.

The duo rarely spend time apart, but it wasn’t long ago that Heine thought perhaps he would never see Spike again.

Heine and Spike’s journey began when the two met in North Carolina after Heine was selected to be a bomb dog handler by the U.S. Marine Corps.

“I was in the Marine Corps and had been doing artillery for a while and was stationed in Hawaii,” Heine said. “They then selected me to go to mortars chief course and then machine gun specialist. After that, they came back and said they had a meeting and decided we needed two bomb dog handlers for the whole battery, which is out of around 150 people. I ended up being selected and thought, ‘So, you want me to find the bombs? I don’t know about that.’ It wasn’t like a volunteer thing, it was more like ‘volun-told’.”

But Heine took his duties and headed to North Carolina, where he was met with a personality test.

“They make you take the test to pair you up with a dog,” he said. “Some other people got paired with dogs and said they don’t fit, so they switched up, but Spike and I, from the beginning, we were a match made.”

Thus began the rigorous, yearlong training process for Heine and his new pal Spike.

“We were inseparable,” said Heine of himself and Spike during their training period. “He slept with me, we stayed together day and night. He was like another part of me. He was my best friend the whole time.”

Heine said he and Spike were put in every imaginable scenario in which a bomb could turn up, and were tasked with finding the bomb.

“We would take him to different buildings to train, or go down roads or even the middle of the woods,” Heine said.

But the real test was waiting for them — in Afghanistan.

“We were in Afghanistan for about eight months,” Heine said. “We went over about two or three weeks ahead of everyone so we could get the dogs acclimated.”

During his tour, Heine, along with Spike, found 10 bombs. But, the two were also victims of three separate explosions.

Heine said it was hard sending Spike into the situations they faced, but he realized it had to be done.

“It kind of felt messed up in a way,” he said. “The only way to actually justify it was for me to think I had built this relationship with the dog and I love him, but if I don’t use him to his full potential and for his job, I can lose four friends right there. I just had to put it on human lives. That is the only thing that outweighed it, because otherwise, I would have never put him in that situation. I love that dog.”

Heine also struggled with the fact that Spike was unaware of the danger he was in, and Heine had to go along with it.

“It is weird because I knew I was in a war zone after being shot at multiple times and having bombs go off,” Heine said. “I used to make the joke that I wished I could be that happy doing my job, because little did he know, he was finding bombs, and was just so happy about it.”

The biggest test of them all came after Heine and Spike went through their third explosion.

“I had gotten blown up for the third time and they ended up pulling me and I wasn’t able to patrol anymore,” Heine said. “I had shrapnel in my knee, my back was messed up and all this other stuff.”

The explosion happened about a month before Heine was scheduled to get out, so he began filling out the paper work to fully adopt Spike.

“I was supposed to adopt him and they even told me, ‘Yes, Mr. Heine, you were his first handler and you are going to get him.’ But then out of the blue, they said he ended up getting picked up by one of the agencies.”

Heine’s heart sunk. Not only had he lost the friends he had made in his time in the Marines, he had lost his right-hand man.

Heine returned home, by himself, with no idea of where his best friend had gone.

“It was a huge struggle when I got back,” he said. “You not only have all your friends taken away, then you have your other best friend taken away. Everything was stripped from me.”

So Heine’s mother took action and began attempts to track Spike down.

“I was almost at the point of giving up, but my mom kept going through different military aspects trying to find Spike,” Heine said. “She ended up going through Boots and Collars and Military Working Dog, and once it was posted to Facebook, there was a response in 24 hours.”

Heine was actually closer to Spike than he had been in years. Not long after, he received the good news.

“We knew it was Spike because he has a tattoo in his ear, ‘R009’,” Heine said. “My mom walked up to me and handed me the computer and I saw the email from Chief Pike in Virginia and was just like, ‘Whoa.’ ”

Heine was looking at his long lost friend. He had finally found him.

A week and a half later, Heine was on his way to Virginia to reunite with Spike, and he said the feelings were nearly impossible to describe.

“We were at the Virginia Capitol, and when they started to do the ceremony, there were all these people and the capitol had these huge steps going up,” Heine said. “When I started walking up I couldn’t see anything, but then I saw right above the top stop and saw Spike standing there. It was unrealistic. I was so overjoyed and couldn’t express any emotions, almost numb per se.”

The duo was back together for the first time in years, and Heine found himself whole again.

“I feel like I lucked out in my experience,” Heine said. “Everything I was having nightmares about or having flashbacks, they kind of just went away once I got him back. It was like I was whole again. All my focus went into taking care of him. I had a new purpose in life.”

But the fun didn’t just stop at the ceremony. Heine’s story began to spread like wildfire, and before he knew it, he was doing interviews with the likes of CBS and FOX.

“It’s been hectic, but the one thing I love about it is you look at the news and just see bad,” Heine said. “But this is one of the news stories that was good and has just blown up. I’m glad it has touched so many people. Everyone that has reached out to me has said they want to do something to help somebody else, and I feel the same way. It is like pay it forward. I feel like I was given this opportunity and something nice was done for me, and I have to help others.”

On Heine’s plate now is a restaurant he is opening with two of his friends.

“We are going to call it ‘Purple Hearts’,” he said. “I’m doing it with two of my buddies, one is a triple amputee and the other is a double amputee. We all got Purple Hearts in Afghanistan, so we are calling the restaurant that. But it also has a double meaning because we also bleed purple and gold for LSU.”

But most importantly at this point, Heine is spending as much time as he can with Spike and enjoying every minute of it.

“That dog is my life,” he said. “I wouldn’t be anything without him and I wouldn’t be here without him.”

Heine currently resides in St. Francisville and is the grandson of Walter and Patsy Brown of Natchez.

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