Sonka was a dog handler in Afghanistan

As Torey Sonka looked over a memorial that now stands in honor of her late husband, she remembered his love for the Marine Corps and his work as a canine handler.

“His dream was to be a dog handler and he was doing exactly what he wanted to be doing,” she said following Monday’s dedication ceremony at Stone Bay.

Marine Corps Forces Special Forces Command (MarSOC) posthumously dedicated its Multi-Purpose Canine Facility in honor of Cpl. David M. Sonka.

Sonka was a multi-purpose canine handler assigned to 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion. He was on his second deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom when he, his canine Flex, and Staff Sgt. Eric Christian were killed in action on May 4, 2013, while conducting combat operations in Farah province, Afghanistan.

The names of four other canine handlers killed in action are also listed on the monument: Sgt. Christopher Wrinkle, Staff Sgt. Christopher Diaz, Cpl. Keaton Coffey and Sgt. Joshua Ashley.

Torey Sonka said that her late husband, who trained as military police officer and a dog handler, had not initially planned to re-enlist but during his first deployment worked with MarSOC and learned later of the opportunity to serve as a multi-purpose canine handler.

He was also inspired by the loss of fellow canine handler, Christopher Diaz, a friend who was killed while he was on his first deployment.

“I think that was a big part of why he came here. He felt his job was not done yet,” Torey Sonka said.

The dogs used by MarSOC have three primary tasks of explosives and human odor detection; man tracking and trailing; and protection for his handler and teammates.

Master Gunnery Sgt. John Alen, who was serving as program manager at MarSOC when Cpl. Sonka was working there, said the memorial recognizes the sacrifice and service of David Sonka and Flex.

“As we come together (Monday) to celebrate David’s service as a Marine, we express our gratitude to his family. I have no doubt it was their love and their exemplary service that led David to enlist in the United States Marine Corps,” Alen said. “I also believe that the precedent of self-sacrifice that he learned as a child is what guided him that day more than two years ago when he and Flex gave their lives for this country.”

Kim Scarborough of Kinston was among those who attended the ceremony to show upport for Cpl. Sonka and other dog handlers. She wore a black ribbon on her lapel and came with her dog, Sgt. Ben, a retired military canine that she adopted 18 months ago.

“These handlers and their dogs gave all and I feel it’s important that we give something,” she said. “This is my way of giving something small.”

Jannette Pippin is a reporter for the Jacksonville Daily News.