El Paso, Texas (KTSM) — El Paso native, Sgt. Omar Peña, was reunited with his Combat Working Dog (CWD), Mariah, at the El Paso International Airport on Thursday. He adopted her after she retired from service. The reunion and adoption were made possible by the American Humane Association and Mission K9 Rescue.
Peña served in the Marine Corps and deployed to Afghanistan in 2009. He and Mariah trained together before the deployment and were together the entire time in Afghanistan.
"We had a lot of firefights, a lot of IED's, and she kept us safe. I want to say I wouldn't have come back if it weren't for her. She kept me alive; she kept my fellow marine brothers alive, physically and mentally. There were some down moments and she would come play with us. She knew when we needed her mentally," said Peña.
CWD Mariah is a specialized Improvised Detection Dog who helped detect explosives with Peña in Afghanistan. It is estimated that each military dog saves approximately 150 to 200 military service member lives.
Coping with the scars of war, Peña said he missed his "battle buddy" and it affected him deeply.
He said, "At night, I couldn't sleep. I remember I went downstairs and there was a blanket next to me. It was dark and my wife, Kim, comes down to talk to me. And I tell her I'm depressed, because I've been petting this blanket for 10-20 minutes thinking it's my dog."
American Humane Association and Mission K9 Rescue worked together to reunite Sgt. Peña and CWD Mariah; the nonprofit organizations also work together to bring other military war dogs back to the U.S. and reconnect them with their former handlers.
Peña checked to see how much money it would cost to adopt Mariah when he found out she was retiring from her position as a CWD. It would cost between $1,000 - $1,500. He asked for help paying some of the expenses, and to his surprise, the American Humane Association and Mission K9 Rescue worked together to make it happen - at no cost to Peña.
A Marine and his best friend, reunited - now living as a family.
"Seeing her down here, I'm so happy. It's just something I can't explain."