Man's Best Friend
Navy K-9 warrior talks about the bonds of war
They deployed together. Max and Salazar were a team. Though war brought with it incredible lows, these two stood side by side, Salazar on two legs, and Max on four.
It was in 2011 that Salazar volunteered for an Individual Augmentee (IA) deployment to Afghanistan. Max was only 3 years old and new to the unit. With very little time to bond, the union was about to be tested. Salazar and Max were sent to an Army infantry unit in the Kandahar Province.
"We didn't have a lot of time, so we had to hurry up our bond. This is less than ideal, because you're going to be asking a lot of a dog that doesn't know you," said Salazar. "We didn't have the time we needed to build that strong, trusting relationship before we deployed, so we had to do it in Afghanistan."
After about a month in Afghanistan, Max and Salazar's bond began to take shape. Especially after grueling overnight and multi-day missions in hostile territory, Salazar began to trust Max completely, and felt that the dog trusted him as well.
"As dog handlers, we go ahead of the infantry, look for IEDs and clear a safe path," said Salazar. "Whether we're going into compounds, or just road clearing, we're there to make sure that the guy behind us gets home safely."
Explosive detection in front of his unit was Salazar's primary job while in Afghanistan. If Max sniffed out an IED, he would alert Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) to investigate. From there, EOD would either disable the device or the unit would find an alternate route.
Salazar credits Max with saving many lives.
"In the end, the dogs don't know what they do for us and how important it is. All they're working for is a little toy, love and affection. They never know that they're actually saving lives."
As their deployment continued, Salazar volunteered for several dangerous missions into volatile regions of Afghanistan.
"The first time we took contact from the enemy has always stood out in my mind," said Salazar. "Max didn't panic, we didn't panic. We just hunkered down and waited for the all clear. I'll always remember that day."
This incident was only the first of many. Salazar recalled many instances in which he had to engage in combat with Max always loyally remaining by his side. He recounted one mission - a large-scale incursion into a Taliban compound that lasted several hours.
After the door of the compound was broken down, Salazar volunteered to go first into the building. As dog and handler searched the compound, Max discovered an IED booby trap concealed around a corner.
Max's impeccable sense of smell undoubtedly saved lives that day, said Salazar.
"I was very proud to say that everyone came home safe whenever I led the way," said Salazar. "But I know it wasn't me. It was Max; he was the one who was doing all the work."