Officer David Stone of the Spokane Police Department could not imagine a more fitting tribute for his friend, Army 1st Lt. Robert Bennedsen, than naming his new partner after him.
K-9 Haywire’s namesake honors the fallen soldier and Vashon native who was killed while on active duty in Afghanistan in 2010. Bennedsen is remembered by many in the community for his boldness, bravery and service to others; a strong, mercurial character who lived to find his next great adventure.
Stone said that Bennedsen — a 2004 graduate of Vashon High School — had a reputation for toughness while playing team sports, from baseball and soccer to football and wrestling, where he set records and earned praise statewide.
“But he actually had this big heart underneath it all and was willing to do anything for you — those are some of the biggest things that stood out about Robert. He was just one of those guys that you could count on no matter what,” said Stone, recounting how Bennedsen, a volunteer firefighter, generously offered his time and assistance to others without hesitation. “He was one of those guys you could count on hundreds of times to always be in your corner and be there in any situation you needed him in.”
Stone, who will mark 10 years serving as a police officer in January, was Bennedsen’s roommate in college when they were both undergraduate students at Seattle University. In no time the two friends became inseparable. They made memories together sampling the best of what outdoor recreation Vashon and beyond had to offer. Bennedsen’s interests ranged from fixing classic cars and riding motorcycles to scuba-diving, hiking and skydiving, and Stone said there was no shortage of things he would try.
“His charisma just drew you in, like, ‘[this is someone] I want to get to know,’” Stone said.
Bennedsen’s many friends and coaches knew him as Haywire, a nickname he earned during his extensive wrestling career for moves that often caught his opponents and onlookers by surprise. Bennedsen was left-handed and his father, Scott Bennedsen, a retired sheriff’s deputy, credited veteran and former wrestling coach Mike Mattingly for coining the nickname as a result of Bennedsen’s alternative style of play in matches and tournaments.
“During one match, he was up against a far more talented athlete. Mike Mattingly shouted, ‘just go haywire!’” Scott said, adding that Robert won the face-off and later claimed a state championship for wrestling in his weight class. “If you can’t beat him with power, beat him with speed. And then he was just always Haywire after.”
The Bennedsen family has deep ties to the island. Tracy Bennedsen, Robert’s mother, said her grandparents first settled in Dockton before her father, a commercial fisherman, built a house with Tracy’s mother on the Burton Peninsula, where the couple raised her and her siblings.
“Their roots in Vashon were deep already, and then there was Robert,” said Kathleen Davis, a friend of the family, who noted that he and her son, Scott — a fellow soldier in the army who brought his body home at the request of the Bennedsens after he died — spent their childhoods together and were later cadets in Vashon Island Fire and Rescue’s (VIFR) Explorer program.
“I think [for] everybody who knew him, he’s in [many people’s] memories. He was just a great guy,” Davis said.
Tracy said that Robert and his older sister, Jamie, were fiercely athletic growing up but excelled in the Vashon School District. That’s how Robert came to receive a full US Air Force ROTC scholarship to attend college, and how he met David.
“It just blossomed, those two. From there, they were going to do everything together,” Tracy said. “Robert got along with everybody.”
Bennedsen graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business in 2008, deploying two years later to Qalat, Afghanistan. He had just celebrated his 25th birthday. Three weeks later, while his unit was delivering supplies to remote outposts, an ambulance in front of his truck was hit by a roadside bomb.
None of the occupants were injured, but when Robert went to retrieve a rifle for another soldier left inside the damaged vehicle, another bomb exploded and killed him.
Tracy said her son’s fearless spirit is engraved on his headstone — “Always in the lead.”
“He really was a special, special kid,” Tracy said. “Nothing phased him. He’d do anything.”
Tracy said that when she learned about Stone’s appointment to the Spokane Police Department’s K-9 Unit, “it brought a happy tear” to her eye. She added that she is amazed by the extent of how many people knew and admired Bennedsen as well as how many are still inspired by him.
“His military buddies really stay in touch with us,” she said. “I’m amazed by how many people have gotten a tattoo with his name on it.”
Remembrances of Bennedsen are all over. Seattle-U hosted the annual Robert Bennedsen Veteran’s Day 5k run/walk this past weekend, consisting of three long laps around campus. The proceeds collected support the Veteran Emergency Fund for student veterans experiencing non-tuition based financial emergencies. On the island, VIFR dedicated its residence quarters in Burton to Robert, and the Bennedsen Rock memorizes him outside of the Vashon High School gymnasium door leading to the football field.
For Stone, after 400 hours of training to become certified in Washington state as a working dog team, there was no debate over what to call his new partner, a 19 month-old German Shepherd from the Czech Republic.
“Haywire was the first name that came to mind,” he said. “That personality matches that name perfectly. That dog is a great working dog but he also has that same personality, he’s erratic and loves life.”
K-9s like Haywire can track and chase suspects and hold them down so they can be arrested, helping officers stop crime while protecting them from harm. Stone said that the journey to becoming certified was not easy — the dogs are whip-smart and committed to their work, he said, but they can also be too willful and stubborn for their own good.
“It’s one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever done in my life, but also the most rewarding thing,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing to see how these dogs work and do to make communities safe and police safe and taking suspects into custody as well.”
Stone and Bennedsen had talked about their dreams of becoming police officers after completing their time in the military. They wanted to be patrol partners. But while that day never came, Stone said he and K-9 Haywire will get to honor Bennedsen every day by serving their community, suiting the legacy of a person who gave to others as much of himself as he could.
“It just goes to show you how much Robert impacted people’s lives, and we’ll still get to do that,” he said. “You mention his name and people get a big smile on their face.”