By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
On November 10, Tygo, a Specialized Search Dog on deployment in Afghanistan, was killed by an IED. On December 4, Fort Leonard Wood kennels held a memorial service for their fallen comrade that included "a ceremonial rifle volley and the playing of taps," as well as the customary sharing of memories to honor the dog's service.
Though his career was cut short, Tygo had a solid reputation for detection work. Earlier this year, he and his handler, Spc. Seth Rodenberger, won first and second place for endurance and explosive detection challenges during the 2012 Hawaiian Islands Working Dog Competition.
Tygo was known for his laid back temperament and was a dog who, according to a base press release, possessed a "fierce tenacity for detection" and was "always steadfast and ready." Even during Tygo's brief three months of his deployment, the four-year-old Irish setter earned a formidable reputation among the Special Operations teams.
In his closing remarks at the Specker Chapel service at Fort Leonard Wood, Rodenberger (who seems not to have been injured in the attack that killed Tygo) thanked his former partner for "keeping the team and especially me out of harm's way. You're my battle buddy, my friend and my hero."
As one other sergeant remarked while they will all miss Tygo, "his loss will only make us more determined to succeed in our mission."
Tygo's recent death is hopefully the last in a year that has claimed a relatively high number of lives from the MWD community -- both canine and handler. As we near the close of 2012, it's perhaps a sad ending note but I think one worth dwelling on, especially considering the pointed remarks of Engineer Canine Company Commander Capt. Patrick McLain, who eulogized Tygo on December 4.
When it was McLain's turn to speak, he talked first of Tygo's role in keeping soldiers working outside the wire safe. But then he asked those gathered to view the dog's death not only as a tragic loss but also "as a very hard and sad reminder that the Engineer Canine Company currently has 43 soldiers in harms way." Of those 43, McLain continued, 18 are in combat arms. Those "military working dogs [and their handlers] have the most dangerous job that the military has to offer," he said. And that job is "finding casualty producing devices that cause so much damage in today's operational environment."
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.