Hero dogs—many of them trained in Alabama—are finally being reunited with their handlers
(Video above: Yellowhammer goes inside AMK9’s hero dog training facility in Anniston, Alabama)
1,500 Iowans crowded into a gymnasium in August of 2011 to mourn the loss of Chief Petty Officer Jon Tumilson, a Navy SEAL hero who was killed in Afghanistan when a rocket-propelled grenade shot down a helicopter on which he and 29 of other servicemen were riding.
After leading the funeral procession into the service, Tumilson’s faithful military working dog, a grief-stricken Labrador retriever named Hawkeye, laid down in front of the casket of his fallen master, creating one of the most enduring images of the Global War on Terrorism.
The image perfectly captured the loving relationship between servicemen and women and their working dogs. But until this year, many handlers and their pups were separated from each other not by death, but by military policies.
“The military’s policies had resulted in dogs being retired in overseas kennels and sometimes being separated from their handlers in the adoption process,” explained Stephen Gutowski, who wrote about the issue for the Washington Free Beacon. But thanks to changes in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), “all military working dogs will now be guaranteed a ride home on military aircraft and their handlers will be allowed to adopt them before anyone else.”
The change in the law is welcomed news for all military working dogs and their handlers, especially here in Alabama, where many of country’s hero dogs are expertly trained before deploying.
AMK9 in Anniston, Alabama, is among the world’s premier training facilities for military and law enforcement working dogs (See video above).
1st Foundation, an Alabama-based non-profit that provides assistance, training and resources to Special Operations Forces, Police Special Operations, and their families, is also focusing its efforts on placing former military working dogs with combat veterans to help them heal from the physical and psychological wounds incurred during their time in combat.
The American Humane Association believes reuniting handlers with their dogs can help them heal from the emotional scars of war.
“When they come back suffering from those invisible wounds of war, we’re hoping that their four legged battle buddy will help them heal from PTSD,” Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the association, told the Free Beacon. “We know it works. We’ve seen it work.”
One of the handlers who has experienced the benefits of being reunited with his pup is Sgt. Brent Grommet. According to the Free Beacon, Sgt. Grommet was at first separated from his working dog, Matty, after they both were wounded by an IED while serving in Afghanistan. They have now been reunited, thanks to the changes to the NDAA.
“To have him, a year later, be able to be part of this legislative victory just gave him such a sense of purpose, to be able to pay it forward to future handlers,” Dr. Ganzert said of Sgt. Grommet. “These gentlemen that we’ve had the pleasure of working with as advocates for them on the Hill, it’s a new mission for them. And that mission is to pay it forward to future handlers so they don’t have to go through the bureaucracy and the pain of being separated from a battle buddy.”
(h/t Free Beacon)