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A Marine and his dog

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MADISON (WKOW) --  The bond between man and dog is indescribable, and Ross Gundlach knows exactly how it feels every time he looks at Casey.

At their home in downtown Madison, Casey has the run of the house, sleeping anywhere her little six-year-old heart desires. But Gundlach can clearly recall a much different time in their lives, where the distance between life and death was miniscule. 

Gundlach always knew he would serve his country, so in 2008 he joined the "always faithful" Marine Corps. He would rise to the rank of Sergeant and was eventually sent on combat deployment in Afghanistan. 

A millions miles away from home during his deployment, Gundlach found comfort with Casey, a female Labrador retriever, who was assigned to him during his four-year career with the Marine Corps. With the help of Casey, the two surveyed the streets of the Helmand Province, sweeping roads for bombs and explosives. During their deployment, Gundlach gave Casey a promise:

"Hey, anything can happen over here. If we make it out alive, I promise I'll find you."

The duo would be separated at the conclusion of his tour in 2012, but Gundlach never forgot his promise to his loyal companion. 

After six long months of research and lobbying, Gundlach traveled to the Iowa State Capitol to discuss with state officials the possibility of adopting Casey, who was working as a bomb arson dog with the Des Moines Fire Department. 

But instead of meeting with a few people, Gundlach walked into a ceremony of hundreds, all with one secret purpose: reuniting Casey with Gundlach.

The reunion was made possible by the Iowa Elks Association, which donated $8,500 to replace Casey with another dog at the State Fire Marshal's Office.

On the car ride back home to Madison, Gundlach sat in the backseat, soaking in the fact that Casey would be forever his. 

The next two years would be a whirlwind for the pair. Gundlach would enroll at Madison College in 2013 before transferring to his dream school, the University of Wisconsin, in 2015. He also fulfilled another dream by becoming a Division One athlete on the men's rowing team. Even with school and athletics, he continues to serve his country with the Army National Guard. 

Through all these exciting changes, Casey remained.

She might have gained a few pounds, her creamy complexion slowly growing more white by the day, but her love for her owner has never faded. 

And neither has his love for his best friend. 

"It's pretty extreme. I would give my life to save her without a doubt." 

Gundlach, a business major, was recently accepted into Sniper School. He plans on finishing his degree before making his decision to go back into active-duty as a dog handler or pursue other interests. 

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