He never considered himself a "dog person," but that all changed when Nick Montez's platoon sergeant encouraged him to become a dog handler after his first deployment in Afghanistan.
"It was a blessing in disguise," said Montez, a Marine Corps veteran.
Montez would eventually travel to Garmsir, Afghanistan with a yellow lab named Mally, a bomb sniffing dog, for his second tour.
"I was her first handler and she was also my first dog that I've ever had," Montez said. "So I think that helped our bond become a bit stronger."
Montez said Mally provided companionship and comfort when he needed it most.
"She brought a sense of security to me and my fellow marines," Montez said. "Knowing we had somebody, or an animal, that was efficient at finding explosives. It really kind of helped ease the burden on us."
Montez said their partnership was cut short in 2012, when the Marines consolidated their working dog program. Montez was forced to hand over Mally sooner than expected.
"They said, 'hey you guys gotta load the dogs up, we're taking them,'' Montez recalled. "I said, 'what?' you know, we kind of thought we had a little bit more time with them."
Montez felt the sudden loss for the next six years, as Mally was sent to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to train other handlers.
"I've never forgotten about her and I've been trying to get her ever since," Montez said.
Now, he finally has her. On Monday, Mally retired and was adopted by Montez.
"I walk in and they open up this kennel sitting in the back of the room and out comes Mally, so right then, I was just in an immediate sense of shock and awe," Montez said. "I was overwhelmed with joy and happiness."
The two made the long journey home to Lewiston Tuesday. In a moment six years in the making, Montez took Mally for a walk outside Spokane International Airport.
Montez is now ready to serve the loyal companion who served him when he needed it most. He's anxious to build on their unbreakable bond.
"She's got a lot of spunk and she's got a lot of spark, and she's got a lot of life left in her," Montez said.
Montez said he plans to take Mally to the river, to the beach, and on camping trips to give her the experiences she missed out on while working.
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