WASHINGTON — The true Dogs of War came to Arlington National Cemetery today, honoring one of their human mates.
The dogs, veterans of such conflicts as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and their handlers stood to honor Navy Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Michael Brodsky as he was buried in Arlington Friday morning.
Brodsky, of Tamarac, Fla., was serving as a bomb-sniffing K-9 handler in Afghanistan in 2012. On July 7, as his unit came under heavy enemy fire, Brodsky took his K-9 partner, Jackson, to safety in a truck. When returning to battle, Brodsky stepped on an I.E.D bomb. He was transferred to medical facilities in Germany where he died on July 21, 2012. He was 33. He was awarded a Purple Heart.
Today, Zero, a bomb-sniffing veteran of Afghanistan, will be among those in Arlington to honor Brodsky.
Following the ceremony, Zero will travel to Texas, where he will join other K-9 veterans to learn what life outside of a war zone is like and — ideally — find a family and home to lead a lazy, toy and treat filled life of retirement.
But Zero’s retirement, it turns out, will not be in Texas. Kristen Mauer, the founder of Mission K9 Rescue, told TMN Friday that a former handler of Zero from the Afghanistan war learned of his availabilty and contacted the organization. So tonight, Zero will be flying to his new home in Michigan.
“We look to help them on a case-by-case basis,” Louisa Kastner, vice president of Mission K9 Rescue, said in an interview. Mission K9 Rescue has a ranch in Texas where dogs are taken, pampered and helped to refocus on life outside of war zones — which is the only life they have known.
Some dogs quickly adapt and are ready for adoption in three weeks. Others take longer and some live the rest of their lives at the ranch, Kastner said.
Like human veterans, many dogs have post-traumatic stress disorder. Others are bothered by loud noises. For some, they grow protective of balls and toys, which provide security and remembrances of reward, which means they do not match well with smaller children or with other dogs.
“We want to make them feel safe,” Kastner said. “These dogs have served our citizens, our first responders, our soldiers on the front lines. They have done this their entire lives and it is time to give back to them.”
Zero, a Belgian Malinois who was shy and hid behind Kastner and Mauer, is 8 years old. He first worked on an Air Force base in North Dakota, then was deployed to Afghanistan. He is being retired because of arthritis and knee issues.
He will join three other new arrivals who worked in Syria and Iraq: Rambo, Rhino and Der, all 4-year-old Belgian Malinois. There are about a dozen other dogs now at the ranch, where they enjoy a lot of space to run in the sun and lounge in the shade under gazebos built by local Eagle Scouts.
“The ranch in Texas is like a dog paradise,” Kastner said.
Gerald Guilbert, chief of programs for the State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, said the K9s are essentially the only ones who can detect the sophisticated bombs left behind by ISIS.
“Dogs like this are going to be absolutely critical (to make areas safe to return),” Guilbert said. “Look at the number of people that returned to Ramadi,” referring to an area previously held by ISIS that was cleared by explosives detected by dogs.
Guilbert said the booby traps of explosives left behind by ISIS was akin to the amount left behind at the end of World War II. He said a key difference is that the ISIS explosives are “incredibly sophisticated devices and very difficult to find.
“They booby-trapped anything of use to people returning to the area,” he said. “Because of the work that these dogs did, 80,000 IEDS removed and people have returned home, Anbar University is open and conducting classes, clean water is flowing to 90 percent of Raqqa (Syria) and electricity is coming soon.”