July 11, 2008

Honor an American Hero

I’d met him four years ago, he wasn’t hard to miss … he was all business when on duty, but as soon as he was able, he was looking for some cute girl to snuggle with … his name was Bear and he was a Military Working Dog and one of my first assignments when I started working at the Fort Polk Guardian.

I may have met Ron, his handler that day, but I don’t remember. It would be a few months later, after a few more interactions with the Military Working Dogs or K-9 Section of the Military Police before I began remember encounters with him. But Bear was easy to notice and hard to forget.

I spent the next 4 years at the paper trying desperately to get permission to cover special topics regarding our MWD Section. I soon became friends with many of the handlers as I fought to tell their story. I always volunteered for those assignments.

One of my favorite memories was when Ron and Bear were set to deploy with another dog team. I remember the other team stood rigid, at attention, dog and handler demonstrating a seriousness that the discipline of Army life brings. But not Ron and Bear.

They stood there, side by side for the photo, smirks on they faces, like two best friends with a secret that no one knew but them. Like two pranksters waiting for their target to be had, their carefree attitude was contagious, outmatched only by their dedication to their job.

In the blink of an eye, I’d see these two friends, turn into a serious, deadly machine bent on completing their mission whether it was a training exercise or drug search. In interviewing Ron for articles, I’d learned just how determined these two were, despite their boyish charm. When Ron spoke of Bear, it was with love and respect. I imagine this was the same love and loyalty that brought them home safe from each deployment.

I remember when Ron’s wife Kim, whom worked with me at the Public Affairs Office, said that Bear was retiring. I was saddened that I wouldn’t get to see him in action any more but knew that he would live out his life in the love and luxury that Ron and Kim knew he deserved. And that he did. He went from leading Soldiers through deployment for 13 years to leading their family dogs and daughter into all sorts of imaginable trouble. I looked forward to the stories Kim shared when we worked together. I was sad the day I had to hug Ron, Kim and their beautiful angel goodbye as they headed to their next military assignment. I kept in touch, got pictures regularly and occasionally shared stories with others who knew them.

On Monday, Kim sent me an email, saying that this gentle giant had passed away. My heart ached for the loss they must have felt, but I chose instead to remember the laughter captured in photos in the face of their daughter as she learned to walk and became his ever present shadow. Yesterday, Kim shared her story in the Fort Campbell Courier …

In loving memory of our military working dog

Published in Fort Campbell Courier (July 10, 2008) --
By: KIM WARREN, Editor

(Photo by Kim Warren, Fort Campbell Courier)

This week the Army said goodbye to one of its finest Soldiers; my husband and I said goodbye to the single individual responsible for bringing us together.

Retired Sgt. 1st Class Bear, a U.S. Army military working dog, was laid to rest Monday at 10:49 a.m. after 14 years of life.

Bear was born into the Army in August 1994 and served honorably for 12 years.

The gentle giant was a patrol and narcotics dog. He’s been to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and a number of other locations home and abroad that others wouldn’t dare go. Bear served in more countries, saw more action and met more people than most Soldiers in their entire lifetime.

He had more than 1,000 drug finds in his day and has won dozens of competitions.

After much consideration and a lengthy review board my husband was able to adopt his partner, friend and battle buddy and bring him home. He was able to give Bear the civilian life he deserved.

The only thing that distinguished him from a civilian dog was his tattoo in his left ear, a permanent mark of his service to our country.

I remember when I first met Bear. I was escorting a local news reporter to do a story on him at Fort Polk, La. He had just returned from his last deployment to Afghanistan in February 2006.

I knew the moment I met Bear he was special. He was a big, black, puffy Belgian Shepherd, which is rare for a working dog. Most people relate a German shepherd with the war dog category.

I remember how intimidating he could be during demonstrations, but I can also recall how much of a teddy bear he was when he was able to play with the kids afterwards.

I can remember how nervous I was the day my husband brought him home for good, especially with two little dogs of my own.

Then I can also remember how happy I was the day I saw him finally getting to play with other dogs. He was fond of my Australian Shepherd female. I would enjoy watching the two of them out in the front lawn having a grand ole time. I also enjoyed the fact that I didn’t have to escort him back into a pen afterwards to sleep on a cold, hard cement floor.

For his final two years Bear was able to sleep on his own bed, in our bedroom, by my husband’s side without the noise of barking dogs disturbing his slumber.

He won my heart and the hearts of many, including my dogs. He was furry, friendly and the most intelligent dog I ever met.

He taught me what dogs are really capable of doing.

Bear’s motivation and loyalty never faltered. Every time he saw my husband dig through his gear he was up and ready to go. I guess he never realized that he didn’t have to anymore. That made it all the more fun when he would sniff me down at the front door after a grocery run while my husband was deployed.

My husband was able to work with Bear for four years and then relax with him for another two.

To this day there are still people that call us to find out how Bear is doing or for those that know, to offer their condolences.

Even after retirement my husband and I were pulled over with Bear in the car just so the sheriff could say hello. He recognized Bear as we drove on down the road.

Everyone wanted to make sure we were giving him the life he deserved after retirement. I can assure you we did.

I want to thank Bear for saving my husband’s life more than once; for removing a lot of the drugs off the streets at Fort Polk; for teaching me what a man’s best friend truly is; for bringing my husband warmth in the cold hills of Afghanistan; for bringing my husband and I together and giving us a wonderful family; and for being the most loyal dog I’ve ever met.

I’m just happy my husband was home from deployment to say his goodbyes and help Bear into his next life.

We’re sure going to miss him.

Until our next cup of tea ...

4 Tea Party Guest:

stitcherw said...

What a great entry, he sounds like an awesome dog. How sad that they can't be with us longer, it is so hard to let them go.

Sgt Mike Dowling said...

Thanks for sharing such a great story about a great mwd.

liberal army wife said...

what a lovely story, and what a great dog. I love Belgians.. they are a less intimidating version of a German Shepherd, and they LOVE to play!


Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

This is a heartwarming post. I'm very moved by it. Thank you for sharing Bear's story.