A Multi-Purpose Canine handler, with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, fast-ropes with his canine aboard Stone Bay, Oct. 1, 2014. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Steven Fox/Released)

On May 4 2013, Marine Raider Cpl. David Sonka and his “multi-purpose canine,” a Belgian Malinois named Flex, were killed in Farah province, Afghanistan. Sonka was a few months into his second enlistment when an Afghan soldier turned his weapon on Sonka and his dog in an insider attack.

Another Marine was also killed — Staff Sgt. Eric Christian.

This coming Monday the Marine Corps will honor Sonka when Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) posthumously dedicates its multi-purpose canine kennel in his name aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., according to a Friday news release.

The Sept. 7 ceremony will also feature the unveiling of a full-size bronze statue of a multi-purpose canine, according to Marine spokesman Capt. Barry Morris. In attendance will be Sonka’s family as well as the commanding general of Marine Special Operations Command, Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman.

Sonka, a native of Aurora, Colo., started in the Marines as military policeman where he spent his first enlistment stationed at Marine Corps base 29 Palms, Calif., as a dog handler. During his initial tenure in the service he deployed once to Afghanistan, according to a biography provided by the Marine Corps.

In 2012, Sonka tried out for Marine special operations where he successfully completed the Marine Special Operations Training Course and two phases of the Multi-Purpose Canine Course. He then deployed shortly after to Farah Province as a Multi-Purpose Canine Handler attached to 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion.

To Marine Sgt. Marc Galvis, a Marine who attended military police school with Sonka at Fort Leonard Wood. Mo., the future special operation Marine and multi-purpose canine handler always stood out to him as an overachiever.

“He was always talking about being a K-9 handler,” Galvis said. “We had to write an essay about why we wanted to be one and Sonka’s just blew the instructors away.”

Becoming a dog handler in the Marine Corps is extremely competitive Galvis explained, and where many struggled, Sonka excelled.

Sonka was 23 when he was killed, and following his death his hometown named one their police department’s working dogs after Flex.  Sonka is the recipient of the Purple Heart, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medal, the Good Conduct Medal and a Combat Action Ribbon.


Cpl. David Sonka and Flex. (Photo courtesy United States Marine Corps)

While many military units operate with working dogs, the Marine Special Operations multi-purpose canines are unique in the sense that they are able to perform a number of different tasks as opposed to just having one defined role such as bomb sniffing. A multi-purpose canine attached to a Marine Special Operations Team can not only detect buried explosives but is also capable of tracking and pursuing the enemy as well as providing additional protection to the team the dog is assigned to.

According to recent report published by the Marine Corps, the multi-purpose canines are transitioning to a more maritime role following the draw down in Afghanistan, with their handlers training with them on fast roping from helicopters and swimming.

Flex isn’t the first multipurpose canine to die while operating with Marine special operation units. Multi-purpose canine Tosca along with his handler Sgt. Christopher Wrinkle died on July 31, 2011, when their barracks caught fire in Afghanistan.