CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan --
CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan— Marine Cpl. Hunter Gullick, a small town dog lover, grew up in Bhyalia, Mississippi. Now, he finds himself farther from home than he’d ever imagined. Gullick is currently assigned as a military law enforcement working dog handler on the small tropical Japanese island of Okinawa. He pulls from his background, as a bird hunter and dog trainer, to change the way that dog handlers throughout Okinawa train their dogs.
“When we started to grow up all of my buddies had girlfriends, but I just wanted to keep hunting and fishing, so I picked up a dog,” explained Gullick who spent the better part of his life trampling around the woods with a dog by his side. “If it didn’t have fins, feathers, or fur I didn’t want anything to do with it. I grew up around dogs my whole life, as long as I can remember, but he was the first dog that was mine, truly mine. His name was Yeti. When I got Yeti, that was when I knew I was going to have to work with a dog, or else; there wasn’t going to be another way.”
Gullick dropped by as soon as he got his friend’s call about a new litter of puppies. From the day they met, the little yellow lab and Gullick had an unbreakable bond.
“All of the puppies were shaking their heads, their tails, doing whatever tiny three-week-old puppies do, and he was just sitting there, looking up, not really doing much,” said Gullick fondly his eyes crinkling as he smiled. “So once he was old enough I came and I got him, and I started taking him everywhere with me. I carried him into every store, he was with me nonstop and I was all he knew. He’s actually why I think it is so important to build a strong relationship built on trust with dogs. From day one, Yeti and I were inseparable. We did everything together, caught everything together, hunted everything together. Some of my friends would say he’s just a bird dog, but I could put that rascal on my shoulder and carry him up into a deer stand. He was all you could ask for of a dog.”
Gullick, 19, had always lived a simple life, happy with good weather, a dog and good company. But, as he entered adulthood, a cause bigger than himself, the call to serve his nation, began to eat at him. He continued to work, hunt, and go to school but found that his call to arms was undeniable.
It all changed when he went to his mother one cool fall night.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t (do it),” Gullick explained to his mother as the night rolled on. He concluded, that if he went into the recruiting office and the recruiters could give him what he wanted, to be a military working dog handler, he would sign right then and there.
“I remember she said, ‘now don’t sign no papers just yet,’” Gullick said, imitating his mother, raising his deep voice to match her high pitch southern twang. Gullick visited the Armed Forces Recruiting Center the next day.
“When I walked into the recruiting office, I knew I wanted to work with dogs,” said Gullick. “I’m a people person but there is just something about a dog. I have seen what they do, during patrols they save lives. It’s unreal what these dogs bring to the table in certain fields. So, I went in that day, and I had to step out to call my mom and tell her I was going to sign the papers.”
In January 2016, Gullick left for Marine Corps recruit training and bid farewell to his beloved family and Yeti.
As soon as Gullick arrived to begin the military police basic course in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, he asked what he would have to do to become a K-9 handler. An instructor at the schoolhouse, Staff Sgt. Kenneth P. Freeman, handed him Marine Corps Order 10570.1A, the Department of Defense military working dog order, and told him to copy it word for word. So, Gullick did.
Because of that order, Gullick is now a well-versed military policeman and dog handler with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan. Gullick’s K-9 team helps support countless base operations and provides antiterrorism measures throughout Okinawa, keeping the local and U.S. community safe.
Despite the busy and demanding schedule of being a dog handler, Gullick’s outlook on life has not changed.
“This is as complicated as I like my life to be,” started Gullick. “Going to work, getting my dog, and training myself and others to be the best. I live a simple life. I don’t like clutter. It kind of transfers over into my job field, a very simple field that people tend to overthink, overcomplicate. At the end of the day, they are just dogs, they just want to please you, or get a toy, and they don’t really care about a lot of things because you are all they’ve got.”
Gullick is a down-to-earth guy, who avoids the hustle and bustle of social media and modern day technology. He uses a beaten-up flip phone, which he never carries on his person, as his main source of communication. Most days you can find him at the kennels staying late with Shiva, his military working dog; at Gunners Gym for hours on end; or out enjoying the tropical weather Okinawa offers in his notorious worn down camouflage crocs and his nose buried in a book.
Gullick is well-known for his easy-going but competitive attitude. He is always pushing to be the best, whether it be mentally, physically or spiritually. His personal drive and motivation led to an accelerated promotion among his peers.
“Cpl. Gullick is a physically advanced Marine, he trains a lot more than most Marines that I’ve met,” said Sgt. Maximiliano Belcaro shaking his head in amusement. Belcaro is a military working dog handler with H&S Bn., MCIPAC-MCB. “He’s also mentally advanced, always pushing to learn more through books or videos. Our other Marines see that and try to replicate it, so he leads by example. We saw very quickly that he was a leader in the kennels and the only thing that he needed to help with that was the rank. So we put him up on a Marine of the Quarter board and he won. Afterwards, he won a meritorious corporal board too.”
Through his innate leadership, and meritorious promotion to a noncommissioned officer, Gullick continues to push his unit to settle for nothing shy of perfection.
“Working with him makes everyone better,” said Lance Cpl. Garrett Impola a military dog handler with H&S Bn., MCIPAC-MCB, and friend of Gullick’s. “I am very competitive and so is he. If I see he is getting something done, whether it’s getting his black belt in (Marine Corps Martial Arts Program) or fixing a deficiency in his dog, it’ll drive me to get better and do better.”
Gullick wasn’t just put on the board because of his prime physical fitness, or go-getter attitude, or ability to mentor his Marines. According to Belcaro, it was also because of his passion for working alongside his dog.
“I don’t mind going into work, if you do something you love, it’s not work at all,” explained Gullick. “Sometimes on the weekends or when Marines get a (four-day holiday weekend), I’ll just got to the kennels and give Shiva a bath, train and then let her play. I could be having a bad morning but, as soon as I walk into the kennels to her gate, she never fails to cheer me up. She is trying to get through that gate to me, and that drives me. It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle and it’s the best lifestyle in the world you could ask for.”
Belcaro believes that Gullick’s passion for the Marine Corps and dog community goes back to the way he was raised. Gullick comes from a family of bird hunters who are well-known for training Labrador retrievers. These labs are trained off leash to do retrieval work, which shows in his current MWD’s off leash detection capabilities.
“The hardest thing I have had to go through as a handler was building the trust between Shiva and me … it’s not hard, it’s stressful,” Gullick said correcting himself with a smile. “What is so good about the 5812 (military occupational specialty) is there is never a day you’re not learning. You have to have this certain mindset or you’ll get shutdown quick, these dogs will teach you. As long as you’re patient and always pushing forward then it will work out, you and your dog team will be strong. But when I first got Shiva that was probably the most anxious I’ve ever been. Because I really wanted to get to work, to be like a sponge and soak up as much knowledge as I could from everyone. Building that relationship made me keep pushing forward but that’s where she taught me the big ‘p-word’, patience. It didn’t take long but I was hungry, I was eager, I wanted our team to be the best we could be. If someone called us to a detection call, whether it be confiscation or saving lives, I wanted them to know that they could call us and we would get the job done.”
As the months continue to pass, Gullick continues to attribute all of his success and growth as a person to his dog and small-unit leadership. He, like his fellow dog handlers at the MCIPAC kennels, can often be found dedicating his off hours to training, bathing and playing with his partner. As much as Gullick loves the job, it’s never-ending, and requires constant dedication.
“On my off days, it’s kind of like I don’t get off work,” explained Gullick. “If I am not there for my dog, she won’t get play time, interaction. There isn’t an off day, not when you’re working with a dog. That is your best friend that is your partner. “She’s amazing — she seems to like me a lot, which is good because I like her a lot. She’s good at her job, a focused, determined little dog, with a lot of heart. You have to be 110% committed to the dogs, they give you their life, and you are all they got. We have families, but for them you are their family. You got to help it help you. You’ve become a team.”
As Gullick’s time on Okinawa nears its end, he’ll have to leave yet another beloved, brilliant dog, but his plans for the future seem bright.
“I want to pursue whatever the Marine Corps has to offer me in the K-9 world,” said Gullick. “I want to be able to be asked any question and know it. When my time in the Marine Corps is done I’ll do something with dogs again. Dogs are important and will continue to save lives. I’ve never had the opportunity to be on a combat patrol like the Marines I read about and aspire to be like, but as long as there are bad guys out there trying to kill Marines there will be a dog team in the front.”