By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief
24, 2008, a bomb-sniffing dog named Sasha and her handler, Lance Corporal Ken
Rowe, were on a routine patrol in Afghanistan. The team was attached to the 2nd
Battalion Parachute Regiment. According to reports, Rowe, a handler with the Royal Veterinary
Corps, wasn't actually still supposed to be in Afghanistan -- he was meant to
complete his deployment the day before and go back home to West Moor, near
Newcastle. But Lowe had decided that he and Sasha should stay in country because
"he was concerned about a lack of cover for comrades."
he had good reason to think that his fellow soldiers would need them. Despite
the fact that he and Sasha, the four-year-old yellow Labrador, had only been
assigned to work together earlier that year, and despite their short working
history, this team was "considered the best in
the Kandahar region." Sasha had 15 confirmed operational finds.
But on that
summer day, while they were waiting at the "rear gate of Forward Operating Base
Inkerman, high in the Upper Sangin Valley," they were hit by a Taliban attack. According
to the BBC, six men were injured, one of them gravely -- Lowe and Sasha were
killed. (While the BBC says that they were "ambushed
by a rocket-propelled grenade attack," another report says the pair was killed
"instantly by automatic gunfire.") Lowe, 24, was the 112th British soldier
killed in Afghanistan.
news came out that, in May, Sasha will be awarded the prestigious Dickin Medal -- "the highest
award any animal can receive for lifesaving bravery in military conflict,"
perhaps better known as the animals' Victoria Cross. According to the
organization that presents the honor, PDSA, Sasha is being awarded the medal because her "determination to
search and push forward -- despite gruelling [sic] conditions and relentless Taliban attacks -- was a morale
boost to the soldiers who entrusted their lives to her weapon-finding
has footage of what was meant to be
Lowe and Sasha's last patrol and the Telegraph's
Sean Rayment embedded with the British Army
and spent some time with their unit just days before the pair was killed. He
describes Sasha as having a "friendly face and a tail that never stopped
wagging," and captured well a heartwarming moment between the handler and his
dog after Sasha, forgetting her military discipline, took off after a stray
Sasha disappeared, without a sound in a cloud of dust, chasing the cat
around the camp. We all laughed quietly. "Who'd be a dog handler?",
L/Cpl Rowe said to himself, slightly embarrassed by his dog's momentary lapse
Sasha came back, head bowed, knowing that she had erred. L/Cpl Rowe attached
the lead and said "sit!" The dog obeyed, and then, in an act of
affection, let her body rest against the side of her master's leg. "She's
saying sorry," said L/Cpl Rowe.
recipient was also a war dog, Theo, who also received the honor posthumously
in 2012. Sasha is the 65th animal to receive the medal -- others that have come
before her include pigeons, horses, and even a cat, all for their feats of
bravery during war.
Rebecca Frankel is senior editor, special projects at Foreign
Policy. Her forthcoming book War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love
comes out on Oct. 14 from Palgrave Macmillan.