- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2014

Two wartime comrades, an Army soldier and a Czech German shepherd who together hunted buried explosives in Afghanistan, have been reunited after two years.

Handler and dog — Spc. Brent Grommet and Matty — rendezvoused this weekend after an intense media campaign helped persuade a family to relinquish the retired bomb sniffer.

Spc. Grommet and his father, Don Grommet of DeSoto, Missouri, drove to North Carolina to retrieve Matty and take him to the soldier’s home base, Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

The Army acknowledged a mistake was made last winter when the war dog was given up for adoption even after Spc. Grommet filed the required paperwork to own his canine comrade.

Under the federal Robby’s Law, a wounded dog handler is supposed to have final say on adoption.

In this case, Spc. Grommet’s decision was easy: He wanted to own Matty. Both of them were matched and trained in the military’s Tactical Explosive Detection Dog program.

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The soldier had last seen Matty in 2012 at an air field in New Jersey, as the German shepherd, tattooed VO53, was taken away in a crate for processing and medical care.

Spc. Grommet never heard from the Army on the adoption application he had filed in Afghanistan, and began a dogged search. He and his father finally tracked down Matty late last year to an Army veterinary clinic at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

He refiled the application. In January, the unit told him via email: “I have submitted your packet to the chain of command in charge of the dispo of Matty. I will let you know when I hear something, they should be in contact with you in the next few weeks. Thank you and have a wonderful day.”

No one contacted Spc. Grommet until he got the shocking news. An officer at Fort Bragg called the soldier’s father to say Matty was gone. He had been adopted.

“This is a truly unfortunate mistake, and we are doing what we can to help all parties involved,” Lt. Col. Donald Peters, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, told The Washington Times.

He explained the timeline: “The military dog Matty was not injured in combat. Rather, Matty was diagnosed with a subchondral bone cyst which resulted in his removal from military service. Matty was then put up for civilian adoption.

“While regulations dictate that former handlers have first priority for adoption, Spc. Grommet’s request was not forwarded to, nor received by, the Army’s Office of the Provost Marshall General, which manages the program, prior to the dog’s legal adoption.”

Spc. Grommet, just out of spinal surgery and suffering hearing loss and post-traumatic stress, received the devastating news.

His story went public in recent months with local news stories and then reports in The New York Post and on Fox News. And nationally syndicated radio host Michael Savage demanded that Matty be reunited with his handler.

Spc. Grommet’s supporters started a White House petition that urged President Obama to help reunite the soldier and Matty.

“His family likened Grommet and Matty’s relationship to that of brothers, and said the soldier needs his combat buddy for a healthy recovery,” the petition says. “He’s desperately sought Matty since their separation, and has begged the new owner to consider a purchase or barter for the dog.”

Concerned Veterans for America launched a Matty Facebook page, which received more than 4,700 “likes.”

“Share if you think the military should reunite Specialist Grommet and Matty!” it says.

Matt Martini, an executive with Off the Record Strategies, which provided pro bono public relations help to the Grommets, confirmed Sunday that Matty is now with his wartime handler.

Mr. Martini said Congress might amend Robby’s Law to make it clearer that handlers have ownership rights to their retiring war dogs.

“The Grommets are just really happy to have Matty back right now,” he said. “What they’d like to see happen is for the legislation to be amended so a better accounting for the relationship between the handlers and these dogs is recognized.”

“It’s hard, it really is,” Spc. Grommet told The Post last week. “If I just wanted a dog, I could get a dog. I don’t want a dog. I want my dog.”

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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