By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Andy Hawkett was a career military man who had retired from service after tours in Kosovo and Bosnia in 2002. But seven years later, he rejoined as part of the British Army's volunteer force, the Territorial Defense, in 2009. And when Hawkett was asked to join a bomb disposal team operating out of Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, he went willingly.
Once in country, he was attached to a unit of seven other men -- including a handler and his bomb-sniffing dog, a springer spaniel named Jake. Over the next several months their job was to patrol for IEDs, and during that time Hawkett became very fond of Jake. The days were long and hot for the soldiers and the dog. And as Hawkett told the Express, the tempo of their work varied greatly, "sometimes [it would] be so monotonously boring that the thought of finding a device or being shot at by the Taliban is pretty exhilarating."
And then one day their team had one traumatic find -- one of the members stepped on an IED during a patrol. The blast knocked everyone off their feet, and the man who set off the explosives lost both his legs. Jake happened not to be with them on that particular patrol but was back at their base. The horror of what Hawkett saw overwhelmed him and when they returned, he broke down. It was Jake who comforted him. "Jake came to me and put his paws on my shoulders and I guess that was when the bond between us really felt rock solid."
We've had a lot of stories here about handlers -- many, many handlers -- who've stood in long lines to adopt the dogs with whom they've gone to war or spent years with working stateside. Less common, rare even, is to hear of a soldier who went to the same lengths to adopt a MWD who was just on his or her tour. But it certainly reinforces how much these dogs affect all the people who work closely with them. When Hawkett discovered that Jake's career as a military dog would end after that tour in Afghanistan in 2010, he put in a request to adopt him. After 18 months of silence, the Defence Animal Centre contacted him asking if Hawkett and his family still wanted to take Jake. The answer, of course, was, "yes."
The Hawkett family says that Jake is a fully retired war dog who "may be good at sniffing out bombs but he's definitely not so handy at finding lost socks or toys. He loves his walks although he can't go as far as he used to."
Rebecca Frankel's book about military working dogs will be published by Atria Books in August 2013.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.