Marine adopts dog he served with in Afghanistan
By LINH TA | Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa | Published: June 16, 2013
PARKERSBURG, Iowa --- When Parkserburg Marine Matt Hatala first met Chaney, the two were like oil and water. Both were bull headed and didn't like to listen, and Chaney dragged Hatala all over the place.
After sizing each other up for a few weeks, the Marine and the 4-year-old black Labrador finally deemed each other worthy companions.
"I was telling my buddies, 'I don't like this dog,' which is funny because I wouldn't trade him for the world," Hatala said.
Quickly, Hatala and Chaney became inseparable, and they recently were reunited.
In 2010, Hatala deployed to Afghanistan with the 2nd Batallion, 1st Marines. Chaney stuck close by his side, serving as an improvised explosives detecting dog. Hatala spent an extensive amount of time caring and training Chaney in Afghanistan, but when they returned to the States in 2011, they parted ways.
"It was kind of difficult," Hatala said. "You get so used to having him around constantly, it was more of an uncomfortable feeling not being around him and of course I missed him."
While Chaney returned to Afghanistan with another Marine, Hatala received an honorable discharge and worked in Afghanistan, South Carolina and Iowa. And though they hadn't seen each other for a year and a half, as soon as Hatala learned that Chaney was returning to the States, he immediately filed adoption paperwork.
A month ago, he drove across the country to pick up his old friend from North Carolina and bring him to his home in Parkersburg.
"It didn't really hit me until the next day when I woke up and he was there. It was like finally seeing a long lost friend after a long time," he said
While Hatala was preparing for his second deployment to Afghanistan in 2010, he was told he would be working with improvised explosive device detecting dogs in South Carolina. At first, Hatala was upset he was leaving his comrades but "it was a week or two in, I fell in love with the program. I honestly wouldn't deploy again ever in my life without a dog," Hatala said.
Hatala and his gray-snouted lab spent months on casting techniques and identifying explosive odors.
In Afghanistan, Chaney's training was put to the test. After receiving a call about nearby insurgent activity, Hatala and his comrades learned about a plan to kill the head police chief near their patrol base. Within the first two minutes of arriving at the police chief's house, Chaney signaled there was an explosive device.
Just 100 feet away in a field behind the house Hatala and his comrades found 30 pounds of ammonium nitrate --- a chemical compound commonly used in fertilizer and also used in the Oklahoma City federal building attack in 1995.
"Because on deployment you're already stressed out about a million things and then being there with a dog is more like having a kid with you," Hatala said. "So it got stressful at times, but when he found that, none of that other stuff mattered because we hopefully saved some lives that day."
Though he's now 7 years old, Chaney isn't taking a break. Though his old age doesn't allow him to return overseas, Chaney has started visiting Retrieving Freedom, a nonprofit organization in Waverly that specializes in training dogs to work with veterans and children with autism. They also continue Chaney's explosion detection training, and Hatala hopes to bring him out hunting.
Now, Hatala's just grateful that Chaney is home.
"You get out of the military and all of the best friends you made, they all go back to their home state and you're left on your own," Hatala said. "At least I've got one of those friends back."