SPC Colloggero Vignati and Saxo, US Army

Me:  Tell us about yourself and your dog.

Spc. Colloggero Vignati, Military Police Dog Handler, US Army:  I joined the military to protect my country and my loved ones.  Coming from where I used to be and seeing where I am now, it’s a complete 180.  I wasn’t really such a good person when I was younger. I grew up in a bad neighborhood and my parents split when I was young.  I got into a lot of trouble when I was young…When I was 19, I decided I can’t do that anymore.  I’ve got to turn my life around, so I joined the Army.  I first came in as a MP.  From the tests, I was chosen to be a dog handler 3 years ago and it has turned out to be one of the best jobs in the Army.

This is Saxo.  He’s a Patrol Explosive Detector Dog and he has been deployed to Iraq.  He’s 6 years old.  He’s been with the Army since he was about 2 years old.  I’ve only been with him for about 8 months.  He wanted to be more alpha than his last handler.  He really needed a more experienced dog handler, someone to give him a more stern voice.  It usually takes about 5-6 months before a bond develops between a dog and his handler.  It took Saxo about a month with me.  I just spent time with him, working with him.  It took hours and hours of working together every day. Repetition helped.

A dog’s always going to protect your back.  He’s always going to know you, the difference between you and someone else, and he lets you know that I’m going to be by your side no matter what!  All the dog knows is the handler, nothing else.  The dog just knows you, your smell, your voice—your everything.  You give life to the dog.  For example, I was out here (CA) for training for about a month.  I was the only one that fed him, got him water, and took him out on breaks, so he knew he’d get everything from me.  He’ll respond to other people here and there, just to play around and be familiar with other people–to be nice with others.  This is so he’s not so aggressive and can build rapport with others, to not be so mean all the time.

What I love the most about Saxo is how he’s a goofball when it comes to us just playing around, but when it comes to work, he’s all about work.  He’s 100% work and talent.  He’s trained to attack on command…When he gets real agitated, he doesn’t let anyone get near him or me.  When he gets like that, I just let him let it out of his system.  I’ll keep petting him.  He’ll eventually settle down when he’s tired.

I’ll never forget how Saxo can act like a child sometimes, but he’s really an old man. His favorite toy is a Kong, a little plastic ball.  It has a rope on it so we can play tug of war with it.  He loves to chew on the ball.  He gets the ball when he finds an explosive.  That’s his reward.  When he does something right, that’s when he gets a toy. I’ll never forget that energy he has, even for being such an old man.  He’s getting to be at an age where he’s going to start to decline soon, but he doesn’t want to decline.  He’s a tenacious dog.  He’s never going to stop!

 

Mrs. Hayley Duque

Me:  Tell us about some of the things you’ve learned as a military brat and now as a military wife.

Hayley Duque:  It has been interesting transitioning from a child from a military family to having a military spouse.  I can say my mom was really amazing.  She raised my sister and me and she took care of everything when my dad was away.  As a kid, I was just like oh, dad’s gone and that sucks.   As a grown up, I get to take care of everything.  Even something as frequent as moving, as a kid, the movers just show up and you stay out of the way.  As a spouse, I have to schedule, organize, coordinate the receiving end, etc.  Part of it is just being an adult in general.  As a kid though, I didn’t realize how much my parents did.  It gives me a new sense of appreciation for all that they did and really renews the sense of appreciation I have for them.

I think it’s always a struggle when you move somewhere and everything’s brand new to you.  Being a military kid, I learned early on that if you don’t go out and make friends, they’re not going to come to you.  If I didn’t want to spend 2 years in a new school and sit in the corner without any friends, I had to go out and make new friends.  Knowing that definitely helped when I went to college and when I got married.

It’s not as hard now to go out, meet new people, find new friends, and experience different things. I’ve learned to take more initiative and how to settle in.  For example, when my husband, Brian, got stationed in Alaska, it was far away from everyone and we were newly married.  I learned I couldn’t just stay holed up.  I had to get out there.  I worked with the University of Alaska and taught clarinet through them.  I also played in their ensemble.  I think being resilient is something that I’ve learned.

As a couple, I think it has really been a matter of us working together on the same goals.  I married a man who’s also married to what he does.  To be successful and to make it through as a military couple, you have to accept that.  For the active duty member to successfully serve and for the relationship to work, everyone has to understand the active duty member’s  first and foremost responsibility is to do what the military says.  Duty has to be first.  There needs to be an understanding that being in the military is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle.

When Brian’s gone, it’s tough at times.  There’s a joke in the military that anything that could go wrong while your spouse is deployed will go wrong.  Everything that can break will break.  Everything that can malfunction will.  It has been true for the most part, from when I was a kid and now, as a spouse.

Even though it’s tough to be the one to stay behind and take care of things when the Service Member goes off on deployments, it’s always tougher for them to leave. For them, they may be going over into sometimes scary or dangerous situations.  They miss things back home, milestones, time with family, etc. So I hope Brian will always know I understand and appreciate that.

Every relationship is flawed and we’re no different in that way.  Going forward, I’d like us to keep that commitment to be partners and friends and to continue to get stronger as a team.  I hope I do good enough of a job and I’m sure I don’t, to make sure he knows I’m always on his side and I’ll always be there for him.  I try to make sure he knows how I feel about him, be it a note in his lunchbox, a thoughtful care package while he’s deployed, or just talking about it with him over dinner. I support everything he does, and I know he does the same for me. We both agree that’s how it has to be to make a marriage work.  We have to be there for each other, have each other’s back no matter what, and work together in everything life throws at us. And since we’re a military family, life throws us lots of curve balls, but together we can navigate it successfully.