PART ONE: “You some kind of dog trainer?”
by Sarah Bates
09:26 AM, Friday, August 10
Twenty-One Steps of Courage is a military action novel about a Soldier’s mission to honor his father. Written by author Sarah Bates, it recounts the Soldier’s journey from his home in Oceanside, California to Afghanistan and back. Becoming a Sentinel Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington Cemetery is his objective, but when the Army learns of his dog handling abilities, an unexpected deployment to a war zone disrupts the Soldier’s plans.

San Diego Pets Magazine is publishing three excerpts depicting this event.

in the July, 2012 printed issue (online now).

in the September, 2012 printed issue (online October 10, 2012).

in the November, 2012 printed issue (online November 11, 2012)


"Specialist Strong!"

Sergeant Owen suddenly appeared at Rod Strong’s right shoulder and pulled him out of formation. A vein in the NCOs neck throbbed.

    "Look, Strong, I'm not sure how this happened, you wanting to go to Afghanistan to look for your brother and all, but I got an order to send you in-country. Know anything about that?"

"No, Sarn't," Rod replied.

"You some kind of dog trainer? Huh?"

"Yes, Sarn't," Rod said. "Civilian certified." Ah. What's this all about?

"Says you put it on your enlistment application. That true?"

"Uh, yes. I put a lot of things on the form. Just filled it out."

"Well, a computer glitch has pulled your name out of the Army's files."

"Me, Sarn't?"

"I've got orders to send you to Afghanistan. Army dog handlers are leaving to help with that earthquake Friday," Owen said, then turned on his heel and strode off.

The next day Rod reported to The Old Guard's canine unit to brush up on his skills. When he showed up at the kennels of the 947th MP Detachment, Specialist Brooks opened the gate and greeted him with a big smile.

"This is a first," the Soldier said, punching in a code to open the security door. Rod followed him in.

"I didn't know we had any other dog handlers here."

"Yeah, well, I didn't ask for this duty," Rod commented as the door closed behind him.

"Wanna see the dogs?" Brooks asked.

When the two men approached, a chorus of barking greeted them. Brooks walked briskly along a row of cages. The first ten enclosures held German Shepherds, then two Belgian Malinois, all big, bright-eyed and strong-looking animals. Their names, dog tag numbers and specialties were engraved on plaques mounted beside each door.

Brooks opened the door to a cage marked Roja and squatted down to play gently with the sleek shepherd inside. The dog's tail thumped the ground.

"We just got back from Iraq," he said quietly. "She's still a little shaken up. Not used to being separated from me."

The next cage appeared empty, yet the plaque indicated Becky lived there.

"Where's this one?” Rod asked pointing to the vacant area.

"Oh, she's in there; probably sleeping against the back wall. She just got back from Iraq, too. Stood a little too close to an explosion."

Brooks stepped into Becky's kennel. He peered into the dark interior of the doghouse.

"Becky, come girl," he called softly. At that, a shiny black muzzle poked out, followed by the wriggling and quivering body of a small Labrador retriever that immediately jumped up on Brooks.

"You're gonna be working here with Becky," he said to Rod. "Come on in an meet her.”

At  0600 the next day Rod began to practice with Becky on the adjacent training field. She obeyed his hand signs, moving easily through the field with its buried scents.

A bond began to form immediately, but Becky would remain behind.  Rod knew a different dog would be waiting in Afghanistan.”

Read Excerpt Two in the September 2012 issue and the Final Excerpt in the November issue of San Diego Pets Magazine.

Twenty-One Steps of Courage is available in paperback or for e-readers. Buy it online at or or at your favorite bookstore. Find out more about this book and the author at

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