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Every Marine is a rifleman – except maybe the Devil Dogs with a cold wet nose, four paws, and a wagging tail. What they lack in opposable thumbs capable of flipping a selector switch to fire, they make up for with noses 10,000 times more sensitive than a human being. That, and they’re just plain fun to be around. They also help save lives – ask any Marine military working dog handler since man’s best friend first went to war with the Marines in WWII.

“Whenever I pictured the Marine Corps, I pictured it at a time of war and the dog handlers were at the front lines,” said Dustin Johnson, a corporal and dog handler with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “They were out there actually doing things, making things happen, saving lives – preventing improvised explosive devices from going off. They brought people home safe.”

Johnson, a native of Liberty, Mississippi, joined the Marine Corps in March 2015, his heart set on being a dog handler. After nine months serving as a Marine Corps military policeman, he earned a chance, taking his first steps into the kennels at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan in June 2016.

The MWD handlers initially work every day for up to six months doing on the job training – cleaning kennels, feeding their partners and learning the tools of the trade until they earn a spot at the Basic Handlers Course, according to Johnson, who is currently embarked aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp with his partner, Ziva.