"He'll always have an honored place in my family,"
ROMULUS, Mich. (WDIV) This is much more than a story about a man and his beloved Labrador. It's about life and death.
Cpl. Jeff DeYoung, of Muskegon, survived deployment to Afghanistan while so many others did not. His dog Cena was always ahead of the pack, sniffing out danger -- specifically IEDs.
"This dog saved my life. I trust him more than I trust most human beings," said DeYoung.
His wife Lindsey knows Cena is what brought her Marine home alive from war. Now, the couple has two young daughters and a third on the way.
"I don't know what we would do without that dog," said Lindsey. "Honestly, everything they've been through, everything, you know the fire fights ... the dog saved my husband's life."
Four years ago, Cpl. DeYoung got off a plane and never saw his dog again. However, he never forgot their unbreakable bond while Cena battled more deployments.
"We slept together in fighting holes. We ate the same food. He drank out of my water system. I carried him across rivers. We had a hail storm and a dust storm and I had to cover myself on top of him," said DeYoung. "I am so glad that he recognized me."
That's what makes this reunion so special. The anticipation caught the attention of strangers at Detroit Metro Airport who heard just a small piece of the story.
Mission K-9 Rescue is an organization that reunites soldiers with their service dogs. No matter how many times Kristen Mauer flies in to make these emotional reunions possible, they never get old.
"They're their battle buddies. They protect each other out there and it's just a beautiful sight when they recognize each other for that first moment, and once that happens it's just beautiful," she said.
After so many years apart, DeYoung and Cena have a lot of catching up to do.
"He'll always have an honored place in my family," said DeYoung.
Cena will have great accommodations at his new home. He will be sleeping in a queen-sized bed with the family. They may need to upgrade.