Less than three weeks after an improvised explosive device (IED) claimed the left leg of Air Force Staff Sgt. Brian Williams during a mission outside Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan, the military working dog handler reunited with his furry, four-legged partner, Carly, on May 15 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), where the Airman is recovering.
The 30-year-old Arizona native and the patrol explosives detective dog trained side-by-side before the two deployed to Afghanistan in February.
They remained nearly inseparable until the April 25 blast injured Williams.
The explosion spared the 5-year-old male German Shepherd and nearly 40 other service members on the mission with them.
The 87th Security Forces Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Jeremy Novak, Staff Sgt. Alison McKenna-Price, Sgt. Blake Hemmenn and four others from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., surprised Williams with the unexpected visit to Walter Reed Bethesda on May 15, which brought Carly to the medical center to see the injured Airman.
"As soon as [Carly] walked in the door, he saw his 'dad' and went right up to his chair and sat by him, giving him a lot of love," McKenna-Price said.
"He didn't want to leave his side."
McKenna-Price, a military working dog trainer who deployed with her dog Rudy to in the Middle East for six months in 2010, explained the relationship between a dog handler and their military working dog. She said the animal typically stays with the handler if there are no kennel facilities and takes care of all of the dog's needs. McKenna-Price said the two become best friends in their home away from home.
"There's an unbreakable bond. You build a solid rapport with the dog. They're your partner in crime, so anything you go through, the dog knows it. Emotions go up and down," she said. "If you're having a bad day, your dog is going to sense that."
McKenna-Price continued, Carly was always a finicky eater, but more so since the explosion that injured Williams. "He's lost a little weight, but the vet said he seems to be in good health and doesn't foresee any issues with him."
Williams said he wept when he saw his dog again after the blast.
"I love Carly," Williams said. "I had tears when I saw Carly, [and] tears when I think about him. I just can't take care of Carly right now. I have to take care of myself."
His February deployment was the second for Williams to Afghanistan, who also deployed to Iraq in 2007. He said the dog played a great role in safety during his recent deployment.
"He kept us all safe at work and at the front of the leash and let us know that everything in front of us [was] safe and clear," explained Williams, noting the importance of service dogs. "From what I've seen and what I've done, on the forefront of the fight, when properly utilized, they are a great asset."
Air Force Staff Sgt. Leo Peters agreed. He deployed two times to Iraq and has worked as a military working dog handler for more than seven years. He explained the role military working dogs and their handlers play on deployment: searching vehicles, entering compounds, performing route clearances as they look for explosive ordinances on the side of the road, or "searching buildings like Williams was for any kind of explosives that might be inside of the building."
The Joint Base Andrews Airman assigned to serve as Williams' family liaison officer (FLO) to help his family navigate the military system during his recovery at WRNMMC, Peters said it was amazing to see Williams reunited with his dog, and he was encouraged by the support the wounded Airman has through his chain of command.
"It encourages me because we do the same job and I have the same potential like he does to get injured," said Peters, who will return to his work as a handler at Andrews after his WRNMMC assignment.
The 87th Security Forces Squadron plans to continue to support Williams as he progresses with his recovery. Squadron Commander Novack said his group will try to bring Carly to Walter Reed Bethesda at least once a week to visit Williams.
"If we get to a point later when he's in his rehabilitation, [and] he can walk Carly, we can even leave the dog with Joint Base Andrews since his FLO is authorized to bring the dog as a certified handler. We're looking at that in the future," Novack said.
Williams expressed his feelings about the assistance he's received.
"I feel elated seeing all the support and love that I have from other people," the grateful Airman said.