Wake County

Cary’s Sgt. Yeager, retired Marines dog, to get Hollywood treatment

Sgt. Yeager and handler Caroline Zuendel photographed outside of their home in Cary on Aug. 23, 2019. Zuendel’s family adopted Yeager in 2012 after he recovered from shrapnel injuries.
Sgt. Yeager and handler Caroline Zuendel photographed outside of their home in Cary on Aug. 23, 2019. Zuendel’s family adopted Yeager in 2012 after he recovered from shrapnel injuries. tbrown@newsobserver.com

In 2012, Lance Cpl. Abraham Tarwoe and his dog, Sgt. Yeager, were patrolling the Marjah district of Iraq.

A Marine had been injured by an IED, an improvised explosive device, so the pair were looking for other bombs in the area.

Suddenly, Tarwoe stepped on a buried IED, and it exploded, killing him.

Yeager suffered shrapnel wounds that took months to recover from and cost him part of his right ear.

Ninety-two military working dogs died in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001-13, according to a study in Military Medicine. Roughly one in four died from explosions, the second leading cause of death after gunshot wounds.

Bomb dogs are integral to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. By clearing routes of IEDs and sniffing out other explosive ordinance, they're helping to save the lives of coalition and Afghan forces. See for yourself the relationship between two handl

Yeager was awarded a Purple Heart for his injuries after serving three combat tours and over 100 detection patrols.

Now, the 12-year-old Labrador retriever is going to Hollywood, where he will be honored as the nation’s top military dog and will compete for the title of American Hero Dog.

U.S. Marines

Fled civil war

Tarwoe was born in Liberia and fled the country’s civil war at age 12 to the United States. He went to high school in New Jersey.

His citizenship was being processed when he was killed.

He was buried in Liberia, where many of his family members still live. He was 26 years old.

Yeager began serving alongside Tarwoe, a mortarman, in 2011 for the Weapons Company of the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment.

According to American Humane, fellow Marines described the bond between the handler and his dog as “unbreakable.”

On the day of Tarwoe’s memorial service, Yeager approached the wooden cross and lay in front of it, unprompted, until after everyone had left.

Sgt. Yeager’s collar from active duty, given to his family by a former marine and friend of Yeager’s former handler Lance Corporal Abraham Tarwoe. Photographed on Aug. 23, 2019. Trent Brown tbrown@newsobserver.com

Adopted in Cary

After recovering from his injuries, Yeager was adopted by Caroline Zuendel’s family in Cary because Tarwoe’s widow couldn’t take care of both him and their infant son.

Zuendel was married to a veteran, and Yeager went with the family to all of his hospital visits. They quickly realized how mild-mannered and sweet he is.

When visitors enter the Zuendel house, Yeager runs downstairs from his favorite spot in the upstairs bathroom and greets them by turning sideways and waiting to be rubbed. He’s a favorite in the community.

“Everyone always asks if he can be their dog,” Zuendel said.

Although he’s losing his hearing and has slowed down, Yeager still loves playing with groups of kids.

For Caroline’s children, Mariah, Mackenzie and Simon, he has been a great pet and a source of stability when times get tough.

After six years, however, Zuendel thinks Yeager may still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s hard to say since he can’t speak,” she said. “But he has dreams that seem heartbreaking at times, and I will wake him up and reassure him.”

Trent Brown tbrown@newsobserver.com

Hero Dog awards

Yeager — Sgt is his actual military title — is the 2019 Military Dog of the Year and one of seven dogs receiving 2019 American Humane Hero Dog awards. They are now finalists for the grand prize: American Hero Dog.

He will be flown to Hollywood for an awards gala Oct. 5 at the Beverly Hilton. The show will broadcast Oct. 23 as a two-hour special on the Hallmark Channel.

Yeager is also going to Washington, D.C. in September to receive the Medal of Courage from American Humane, a national nonprofit founded in 1877.

Trent Brown covers the Town of Cary and other odds and ends. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2019 and is a Collegiate Network fellow.