They’re the four-legged veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – military war dogs, doing everything from sniffing out explosive devices on the battlefield to providing companionship to soldiers during wartime.
Three of these dogs traveled to Washington, D.C., Wednesday with the same service members they served with on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan, raising awareness about the need to reunite military war dogs with their handlers.
“This is my best friend. This is my partner. This is my battle buddy,” Army Staff Sgt. Jason Bos told ABC News of his dog Cila. The two partners reunited in April after serving together on nearly 100 missions in Iraq.
“Her and I deployed together, the two of us, so we moved from one base to another, and we worked with people every day we didn’t really know, so this is my friend,” Bos explained. “I wanted her back and I did whatever I could to do that.”
U.S. Army Staff Sergeant James Harrington was awarded a Bronze Star medal after serving alongside dog Ryky in Afghanistan, where the two helped injured soldiers escape an ambush.
“Both of our training just kicked in and we did what we were trained to do without thinking,” Harrington told ABC News. “She saved me and other soldiers, and now she’s going to continue to save me emotionally as we go along.”
Ryky eventually earned a K9 Medal for Exceptional Service for her actions in Afghanistan. After reuniting in June, Harrington, who suffers from PTSD, says Ryky will help him on his road to recovery.
Since 9/11, over 3,600 dogs have served in the military, with close to 2,000 dogs currently serving through various branches of the military. Earlier this year, the Army said 578 dog teams had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Organizations like the American Humane Association and Mission K9 Rescue are working to reunite many of these service dogs with their battlemates once their service is complete.
“There’ll be a retirement day for each of those dogs,” Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the American Humane Association, said. “We want to bring them back with a hero’s welcome.”