The level of stress that soldiers have to endure during their training and active duty gives rise to some of the most beautiful relationships in the world.
A lot of these men and women stay friends for the rest of their lives, recounting the trauma and numerous struggles they have had to face leading up to their present lives.
The modern military, however, isn’t just made up of human beings.
A sudden increase in the use of improvised explosives in troubled regions of the world has led to an increased use of breeds of dogs with a strong sense of smell.
It’s not as simple as it sounds, not everyone can handle it, but it works.
These canines, just like everyone else in these units, have to endure dangerous conditions and often lose their lives for the sake of their teams
Thousands of lives have been saved by these dogs. So much so that the men and women whom they serve beside don’t just see them as animals or tools, they’re partners.
For the men who trained and served by their sides (TEDD handlers), they’re family.
Justice for TEDD Handlers
Despite making this immeasurable sacrifice, a lot of these dogs don’t get the credit or respect they deserve back in their home country. A lot of them are stuck in shelters in the US, or worse, overseas.
Many TEDD handlers, after leaving the armed forces, have tried unsuccessfully to bring these dogs home.
Justice for TEDD Handlers is a small organization that came about from that shared pain. They try to reconnect many of these dogs with their original partners.
Their Facebook page is plastered with heartwarming success stories of TEDD handlers who, after months or years of struggle, finally got to adopt their former partners.
More recently, however, they shared a unique tribute to one dog who passed away.
The post includes a link to their main page where a series of mini-articles paint a colorful journey of one dog, Fama, and her handler. The entries written by David (Fama’s handler) are raw and don’t sugar coat anything.
Enter David Winners
Now, David wasn’t new to dogs. His mother had been breeding and training Saint Bernard dogs long before he was born. He grew up around them and helped out with his family’s dog business until he was in his thirties.
He left home to join the military, hoping to get assigned to a unit with dogs. Sadly for David, the only way to work with dogs in the military, at the time, was to spend two years working with the military police.
Without much of a choice, he served in the army and ended up in Afghanistan. A few months in, the units stationed there were facing a shortage of TEDDs and handlers to help them out with their patrols.
The US military, out of necessity, created a new program that gave interested soldiers training in handling TEDDs. David’s superiors knew his history with dogs and he was picked.
First encounter with Fama
In Indiana, after a few days of introductory safety training, all handlers were introduced to the dogs and were assigned one based on their personalities.
But when they got to Fama, the mood changed. One of the instructors asked for someone who wasn’t afraid of dogs to volunteer. What he was actually saying was Fama was no ordinary dog and would probably hurt whoever dared to pick her.
The first month of training was painful for David, literally. Sometimes he’d be trying to lock her cage door when she’d just pounce on his hand without warning.
To anyone besides David, this behavior would be alarming.
Through weeks of training, however, David realized that Fama was exceptionally good at finding explosives. During their exercises, she’d find explosives faster than any other dog in their team.
In fact, David was having trouble keeping up with the dog when they were working. He’d grown up leading dogs and telling them what to do, it was a nice change to let the dog lead for once.
Certification in Arizona
Before TEDDs and their handlers can be shipped to Afghanistan, they have to go through terrain specific training for another month and get certified through a series of tests.
Fama, by this point, had grown to respect David and seemed to tame her wild tendencies, but David had been bitten enough times to never let his guard down with her, a lesson an overconfident vet learned the hard way.
As part of the handlers’ usual routine, they would bring their dogs in for check-ups with military vets to ensure they were healthy. One vet seemed very offended when David insisted on restraining Fama while she got her checkup.
The vet ignored all of David’s warnings and chalked it up to inexperience on David’s part. A few minutes after letting Fama off her leash, the vet was pinned on the ground shrieking in fear as Fama kept on charging with her muzzled mouth. Again, it shouldn’t be funny, but David has a way with words.
Their month of training was coming to a close, and the tests were due. Despite all the bites and random attacks from Fama, David had grown to like her and couldn’t imagine being separated from her.
The main fear around these tests wasn’t just failure; there was a risk that those who failed would be shipped back to Afghanistan to resume their previous duties without a second chance.
Fama did exceptionally well and even got an award for earning first place in the examination. Sadly, out of the twenty teams that signed up for the training, only eight passed.
Torture in Afghanistan
Fama got sick as soon as the plane touched down. Her senses were so weak she couldn’t sense the dummy explosives they used in training. What was even worse was that they only had thirty days allowed to acclimatize to the region or get shipped back to the United States.
Before being allowed to join their units in real action, they would have to go through validation, another test, to prove that they were up to the task. It wasn’t enough that Fama was sick, the man in charge of the entire validation had a bit of a grudge.
See, the TEDD program originally belonged to the military police. This man felt like he and all MPs (Military Police) were being disrespected by this new program. So while he’d praise David and the rest of his group in person, he’d file very negative reports with superiors with the hope that the entire program would get scrapped altogether.
In addition, it’s claimed that he would sabotage the tests to try and make the new TEDD handlers incompetent. In the end, the handlers trained through the new program outdid the MPs trained in the old program.
Fama passed and would go on to become an amazing soldier who saved many lives.
She will be deeply missed.
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