A bad feeling
Specialist Marc Whittaker and Anax had been in Afghanistan for about five months, loaned out to various units that wanted their bomb-sleuthing capabilities. The July Fourth mission was to clear the route to a combat outpost before logistics resupplied it. Whittaker and Anax along with some U.S. infantry soldiers and engineers and a group of Czech explosives specialists — about 30 men and one dog — left while it was still dark.
“Before the mission, I had a bad feeling,” Whittaker said. “You still have to do it. I’m a soldier and I have to drive on.”
They arrived at the post without incident after a few hours, with the convoy following. After checking out a report of unexploded ordnance in a nearby town, the group returned to take up position above the first town, to provide cover as the logistics team unloaded on the road. Suddenly, insurgents launched a rocket-propelled grenade, followed by small-arms fire directed at the logistics team.
Whittaker and the others were ordered to flanking positions.
“The mission changed to engage the enemy,” Whittaker said. “We’re running, we’re jumping over walls, we’re running through alleys and fields.”
“He’s like a son to me,” Whittaker said.
Anax was on a retractable leash attached to Whittaker’s belt. Bullets were cracking overhead, Whittaker said, and there was no cover.
“I thought, ‘I have to protect Anax,’” Whittaker said. “He doesn’t have body armor.”
Anax doesn’t wear body armor because it’s too heavy when walking in the heat.
Man and dog jumped to the road, and Whittaker shielded the dog with his own armor-clad body, with his back to the fire.
Anax was whining, Whittaker said, and bit Whittaker’s hand as he tried to cover him, although Whittaker said he doesn’t remember it. In the confusion, the soldier didn’t know the dog had been hit.
[supertagline] Anax was whining and had blood coming from both hind legs. Whittaker started treating the left leg first, where the most blood was. [/supertagline]
Whittaker saw an empty mud structure and started heading for it.
“But I realize Anax isn’t beside me,” Whittaker said. “He’s almost always ahead of me, so I know something’s wrong.”
Whittaker went back, grabbed Anax by the collar and dragged him to the building.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is not happening,” Whittaker said.
Anax was whining and had blood coming from both hind legs. Whittaker started treating the left leg first, where the most blood was. It turned out that was just a flesh wound. The femur in Anax’s right leg, where the blood had clotted, was shattered.
Whittaker yelled for the medic. The medic gave Whittaker bandages and an IV but left with half the platoon to free an injured civilian trapped in a vehicle. By then, the shooting had stopped.
Whittaker applied pressure bandages to the dog’s wounds and tried to start an intravenous line, but couldn’t get the IV in. Anax was becoming glassy-eyed and lethargic.
Whittaker worried that he and Anax might not get a spot on the medevac that was arriving about a mile away. He wanted the dog on the helicopter, even if he couldn’t go along.
“I was determined,” he said.
He picked Anax up and started walking to the medevac site. But it was six hours into an exhausting mission, and the 75-pound dog was dead weight.
“I probably made it 10 meters,” Whittaker said.
The Czech soldiers stepped up to help.
In the middle of the combat zone, Whittaker said, a Czech soldier stripped off his shirt to use as a litter, but that didn’t work.
Three legs be damned…..I wanna play fetch!
An Afghan drove up in a truck, and the Czechs persuaded him to let them use his truck to take the dog to the medevac site.
Anax and Whittaker flew from there to Bagram Air Base, and on to Dog Center Europe, the Army veterinary hospital in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Anax’s right leg was shattered too close to the hip to be saved, and after a five-hour operation, the dog became one of the wars’ amputees — and eligible to retire.
“I’m happy the only thing he lost was just a leg,” Whittaker said. “It could have been a lot worse.”
Anax and Spec. Marc Whittaker shared a bond before the dog was hit by an insurgent’s bullet in July and subsequently lost his right leg. The trauma of the event deepened the bond further for Whittaker.
Click on Memories that Never Fade for the next exciting chapter in this story
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(Article and photos by Nancy Montgomery. Used with permission from Stars and Stripes. (C) 2011 Stars & Stripes )