In his first deployment to Iraq in 2008 as a military policeman, Charles A. Ogin IV was awarded the Combat Action Badge. He says it was "for being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
The 29-year-old Army staff sergeant had just stepped from a portable restroom when an enemy rocket slammed into it.
Unscathed, the self-deprecating 2005 Orchard Park High School graduate carried on with his duties, training members of the Iraqi police and army. The work spared him firefights, though there were many hazardous encounters with improvised explosive devices.
"But I personally was never struck by one," Ogin said in an exchange of emails with The Buffalo News from Union III, a forward operating base inside Baghdad's Green Zone.
When he joined the Army, he says he wanted to secure funds for a college education and gain life experiences. The Army provided both – but not quite as he anticipated.
Ogin enjoyed the work so much, he decided to make a career out of the military, especially after learning the Army would cover the cost of college, "minus books."
Charles A. Ogin IV, 29
Residence: Raised in Buffalo, Cheektowaga and Orchard Park
Rank: Staff sergeant
War zone: Iraq
Years of service: September 2005 - present
Most prominent honors: Combat Action Badge, Army Commendation Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal
Specialty: dog handler, military police
As for life experiences, there is no shortage in war-torn Iraq.
His job at Union III is to make sure no car bombs make it past the base gate.
Ogin and his partner, Rrobiek, a 72-pound, 7-year-old Belgian Malinois "military working dog," are one of six explosive detection teams at the base. They also conduct patrols and behind-the-scenes safety details. In 2014, Ogin and Rrobiek, nicknamed "Robi" [pronounced Row-bee], paired up after Robi returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.
"At first it was a bit of a rough relationship because it's two different conflicting personalities," Ogin said. "But we started meshing, and now I wouldn't have it any other way. He's a great partner."
And while the Army views Robi and its other dogs as pieces of "equipment," Ogin sees human qualities in his canine buddy.
"He has his own personality, his own quirks. He's very set in his ways, kind of like a person,"
said Ogin, a member of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, known as the "Old Guard."
The bond between man and dog makes a team that is more effective "than any machine at finding explosives," Ogin says.
Military brass would not argue with that assessment.
Former Army Gen. David H. Petraeus once offered this glowing appraisal of military dogs:
"The capability they bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine. By all measures of performance their yield outperforms any asset we have in our inventory," he said.
Yet it takes both man and dog to make this partnership work, according to Ogin.
"You got to understand he's doing 90 percent of the work, but without me he can't do that 90 percent," Ogin said.
Have they stopped any bomb-laden vehicles attempting to make it into Union III?
"Nothing found outside of training," Ogin said,
When he completes his nine-month deployment, he will return to Fort Myer, Va., next to Arlington National Cemetery. Ogin, who hopes to one day become a history teacher, says he tries to return to the Buffalo area once or twice a year to visit his parents and five siblings.
But it's clear that "family" is always at his side in the form of Robi, whose loyalty and love is unquestionable, Ogin says.
"He's willing to work until he dies and he's willing to defend me," Ogin said. "I can't say that about every soldier. But that dog will defend me until I die."
But the Army is not big on sentimental attachments that form between "man's best friend" and its soldiers. When Ogin completes his Iraq deployment and returns to the states, he will have to give up Rrobiek.
Diane M. Peruzzini, Ogin's mother who resides in Akron, says it could be an emotionally tough moment for her son, though she adds he is a well-trained soldier able to handle challenges of all sorts.
"I know they are very close," Peruzzini said, "and I'm waiting to see what happens when he has to turn over the dog."