By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
June 7, 2010 would prove to be a bloody Monday for Australian Forces fighting in Mirabad Valley in Afghanistan. It was the first time since the Vietnam War that they saw two soldiers killed in action on the same day -- three including Herbie, the unit's explosives detection dog.
Earlier that day the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment patrolling in the southern province of Uruzgan had discovered three "substantial" weapons caches including "1600 rounds of ammunition, 23 rocket-propelled grenades and five mortar rounds plus fuses." Leading the mission that day was Herbie, the three and a half year old border collie cross, his handler Sapper Darren Smith, and another military engineer who specialized in disarming explosives, Sapper Jacob Moerland. Reportedly, Herbie had alerted to explosives on the road ahead, but though the team knew of the IED that would ultimately claim their lives, the insurgent tracking them from a distance would detonate the IED before they could clear the danger in time. Herbie was killed instantly, as was one of the soldiers. The other, not identified, was rushed by U.S. medicav to an "Australian-staffed field hospital" at Camp Holland but "succumbed from shock and blood loss soon after he arrived."
In an interview he gave a month prior to his death, Sapper Smith called his partner Herbie his "best mate." Smith, 25 at the time of his death, was the first of Australia's canine handlers to be killed while working with his dog in a combat zone.
Now, almost two years to the day, a special working dog memorial has been dedicated to the memory to the working dog team. The national monument located at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Wacol headquarters has been constructed as a tribute to all of Australia's working dogs -- not just those that have gone to war.
As Retired Lieutenant
Colonel George Hulse put
it, a memorial was needed that would honor, "All who have dog
teams as well ... from time to time sadly they lose someone who is killed on
duty, as well as some dogs that are killed on duty."
In the above photo, explosive detection dog Harry rests in a moment of reflection before a picture of his pal Herbie and handler Sapper Darren Smith during a memorial service at Base Tarin Kot in Afghanistan in June 2010.
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Free Press.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.