ENGLEWOOD – How many of us can say the phrase: "there is nothing else I'd rather be doing!"
From an early age, David Sonka kept telling his parents he wanted to be a Marine.
"He wanted to be a Marine since he was about age 12," his father Kevin Sonka said.
Kevin said he wasn't sure how the dogs came into the picture, but his son appeared to be a natural.
"He loved dogs, no doubt about it. He loved training them," Kevin said.
David enlisted for five years and reenlisted after that, most of the time with a dog by his side. His last tour was with Flex, a dog with an attitude.
"He was a Marine through and through. He was a dog handler through and through. He loved what he did," Kevin said.
In May 2013, six months into his second one-year enlistment, an Afghani soldier turned his weapon against the Marines training him.
David, Flex and another service member were killed. David was 23 years old.
David and Flex were brought back to Buckley Air Force Base, saluted for their passion, commitment and service.
Several K9 units from various jurisdictions were there, including Aurora Police, who several months later got a new dog.
They named him Flex in honor of David's dog.
Kevin said APD reached out and asked him about the idea.
"I said, of course, it would have to be Flex. He's a dog. That's what Dave would want," he said. "It's just a huge honor. That's pretty much all it is. I'm just so filled with pride: for my son, for the dog, for Flex. When you get asked something like that, it's absolutely a yes."
In January 2014, the new K9 was assigned to Aurora Officer Jeff Marsich.
If you're around the two of them, you can sense both are excited to do their jobs.
The new Flex is just 18 months old, so his excitement sometimes overflows a little.
He ran towards 9NEWS Photographer Chris Cheline and his camera, wagging his tail. He clearly had to see what this new person with a huge thing on his shoulder was doing.
He's still a little bit of a puppy, which makes Marsich smile.
"He's awesome," Marsich said. "Flexer, what's up buddy? What are you doing? That's a good boy."
Marsich and Flex patrol the streets of Aurora. Flex has some of the same skill his namesake used in Afghanistan. He's a patrol, apprehension and explosives dog.
"Most of my work comes from Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office from their bomb squad. They have me come out and do sweeps through the courthouse, some of their trials they have," Marsich said. "The reason why I'm doing it, is so I can make it easier for cops, make it so they can go home safe. Letting my dog go to do [the sweep], instead of having one of our cops. He can do it faster. He can do it safer."
Marsich didn't know David and hasn't served in the military. But he has a special connection to the Marine and his K9.
"He was killed doing something he loved to do. He made the ultimate sacrifice for our country," Marsich said. "I'm so glad that I could be a part of it by helping, letting the family name Flex."
In spirit, Marsich and Flex aren't too far removed from Dave and Flex.
"We go into places that people are trying to run from," Marsich said.
Both, just like their Marine counterparts, couldn't imagine doing anything else.
"He loves every second of coming to work," Marsich said of Flex. "There is nothing else I'd rather be doing."
As a way to honor his son and give back to the military, the Sonka family formed the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Dogs Project.
They go around the country to military bases and make dinner for the dog handlers.
"I just woke up one night, I just knew that's what I had to do," Kevin said. "[We're] carrying on Dave's name through the Rocky Mountain Dogs Project. Going out to all the military bases, that helps me so much. It's just my passion now. That's is my number one thing to do."
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