Cole was special among black Labrador retrievers who died in battle to save others. His parents were black Labrador retrievers and both were champion field trials dogs, a sport in which the dogs need to make specific and complicated retrievals as directed by their owners. Cole spent his last days sniffing out IEDs (improvised explosive devises) in Afghanistan.
Cole’s owners, Steve and Brittney Tull of Dover Delaware, bought him for $3,000 because Steve wanted to try and see what it was like to train a dog to compete in field trials. However, Steve’s training partner moved away while in the middle of training Cole and so Steve decided to contact Bob Agnor, a friend who works for K2 Solutions Inc., in North Carolina, a firm that trains dogs to sniff out IEDs.
Cole was sent to North Carolina where he met Corporal Brian Holm, his new handler and combat engineer. “We clicked real well. He just kind of responded to what I did,” Holm recalled in a telephone interview from the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twenty Nine Palms, Calif., where he is based. Trainer and trainee graduated in February and Cole was made Sergeant Cole, USMC. Marine dogs hold a rank one level above their handler’s.
On Cole’s first mission in Afghanistan, he detected an 80-pound IED. There were two other dogs in the platoon. One dog had one find, one dog had zero finds. Cole was our go-to dog. He was finding IEDs every mission in October,” Holm said.
On October 14, 2010 Cole was on a mission to sweep an area known for kite-string pulled IEDs. “It was known for kite-string, command-pull IEDs,” Holm said. Those explosives are tripped by an insurgent hiding nearby who pulls the string when the target is close.
A Marine closest to Cole had a mine detector with him. Cole was 50 feet ahead of the Marine and there was no sign of kite strings. Cole looked over his shoulder when the insurgent pulled the string. “Cole was probably not even 3 meters from the IED,” Holm said. All Holm knows is that if Cole had not taken the hit, the Marine with the mine detector was next in line.
“Brian chose to bury him,” Holm’s wife wrote to Tull. “He buried him where the incident occurred. He wanted him to be there because that’s where he became a hero.”