Bosnian destruction

Danica: Child of War Part I

According to the Cape Breton Press in 2010, “Of the 138 Canadian soldiers who have died during the Afghan mission, more than 120 were killed by IEDs or land mines, including one that killed five soldiers and a Canadian journalist.”

So what is a country to do when they are struggling to find ways to protect their 2,800-soldier force in Afghanistan from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)?

Remember when I asked you Are Dog Teams Hired Guns? That post was in a different context but still relevant because it is true. Dog teams can easily (relatively speaking) integrate into foreign units and effectively save lives. This happens every day in Afghanistan and I know that many handlers feel like hired guns. But I digress.

The Canadian Army went out and hired some “Paws” and some handlers. Here is what the American Company, American K9, said about the contract on their website.

Afghanistan – November 10, 2009 – The Canadian Forces Contracting Cell in Afghanistan has selected American K-9 Detection Services, Inc., (AMK9) to provide Explosive Detector Dog (EDD) Teams to support Canadian Military Forces within Southern Afghanistan. This contract will provide the Canadian Forces with both entry control point security as well as support to forward operating units, which rely on EDD Teams assistance to locate hidden Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and weapons caches.

AMK9 has provided Detector Dog Team support to the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan for several years. AMK9 EDDT routinely accompany Canadian Troops in hostile regions and provide the forces with an irreplaceable tool that directly contributes to the safety and security of every single Canadian soldier.

I didn’t personally deal with the Canadian “Hired Paws” in Afghanistan but I frequently dealt with the management of AMK9. I remember standing in the AMK9 country manager’s office and on a board he had a picture of all the “Hired Paws” of the Canadian contract.

I often wondered who these “hired paws” were. I mean, they were charged to lead patrols in an IED-infested land with their dogs. Who the heck would volunteer to do that and why? I knew that they must be very special people to put their lives on the line like that.Danica and her working dog in Afghanistan

Sure, our military dog teams are doing this as well. But if they are injured or killed they have the United States Military and government as a support network. What do contractors have? Who takes care of their family if something tragic happens? I’ve always wondered about those handlers of the Canadian contract.

As I studied the photos of these contractors, one person really stood out to me.

Why?

She was the only woman on that board.

Fast forward 15 months and who should I find on the internet? The woman from the Canadian contract! She is Danica Dada Djikov and her story is amazing.

As I’ve gotten to know Danica better I now have the answer to my question of why.

Danica grew up in the war-torn country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. During her teenage years her hometown of Trebinje, a border town with Dubrovnik in Croatia, became engulfed in war. For four years she lived every day not knowing if her soldier father would ever return home. Her city and neighborhood was shelled constantly. The once bountiful and lush fields of crops became killing fields. Death, destruction and terror were a way of life for those four years in Trebinje. Danica lived every day not knowing if it was her last.

In 2000, six years after the Bosnian War ended, the country was still littered with mines. It is estimated that there have been over 1,700 casualties from land mines in Bosnia Herzegovina since 1996. According to Wikipedia, “By the end of 2008 some 220,000 land mines and unexploded munitions remained scattered in 13,077 locations. A total of 1,755 km² (3.4% of the country’s territory) is mined.” I have read other reports that say that the number of land mines may be closer to one million.

The Canadian International Demining Corps established a dog school for mine detection dogs in Trebinje. Danica, who grew up with dogs, leaped at the chance to enter the school and begin to help her country clean up and rebuild. It was a dream for her to work with dogs and save lives.

Danica, a child of war, wanted to help.

What happens when Danica hits the minefields of Bosnia and then Kosovo?

How does Danica find her way to Afghanistan?

This is part I of Danica: A Child of War.

Don’t miss Part II: A Child of War Clears Her Country of Landmines

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46 thoughts on “Danica: Child of War Part I

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thanks Charles. Corrected. That is what happens when you tweak your pieces minutes before they are posted. :-)

      Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      It certainly seems poetic Alison.

      I think Danica’s story is fascinating. She is a very humble and sincere lady. I feel honored to tell her story.

      Reply
      1. RD Meyer

        Some are meant to direct the activities they enjoy, while being bitterly divorced from doing what they would raelly like to do. A curse of a lot of us, I’m afraid.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

          You are so right Russ. And some like Danica are drawn to their calling right from the start due to unforeseen circumstances.

          Reply
  1. Ellis Vidler

    What a good story! She gives back so much and at such a cost–an inspiring woman. Is that a Newfoundland in the bottom picture? Is it another working dog?

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      I know Ellis… she was worried I was trying to make her out to be some type of hero! I let you all decide that! I think she is pretty special though….

      It sure looks like a Newfoundland. I think that is a personal dog though.

      Reply
      1. Dee

        That’s a Black Russian Terrier–I’ve got one of them too. Most of them people see are all trimmed up for show. That one is in a winter coat for the weather you see behind them.

        Reply
  2. Adriana Johnson

    Kevin,

    Thank you for sharing Danica’s history and her hero light. I also like how you share your knowledge on wars, battles, bombs, threats, the hero dogs of war. I can see why you shared her story and it is a privledge to read. You open yourself up internationaly and safety for all. Honors to military everywhere. I was thinking of everyone this past memorial day weekend. Also thumbs up to Julia in her comments on women in the military. I did not know about that woman in Wolrd War II. I learn a lot through your site and peoples comments, it is a wonderful blog.

    Sincerely,
    Adriana Johnson

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Andriana. I hope your holiday weekend was great.

      I really feel honored to tell Danica’s story. I think her journey is fascinating and I hope everyone else does as well.

      You aren’t the only one that learns from this blog. I really appreciate everyone’s insightful comments. Especially yours!

      Reply
      1. Adriana Johnson

        Thank you Kevin, likewise:)

        You know Kevin you and your blogs are like a big home made pizza pie, lol. They are original including the dough you are blending it with parts of your own history but you include cheeses and toppings etc. representing stories of others. All parts of the same pie with it’s many different ingredients. It makes a flavorable dish (interesting blog:)).

        You don’t blog on that it is all about you but you do share and I am glad you do it makes it personal. You twist and turn to include knowledge and views into other peoples lives too, ask questions etc.. It allows someone of not the same tree of military experience to feel part of it. I really favored how you came across Danica’s story. That is how life is like a blanket you threaded into one area of interest “hired paws” and came out with a perfect connection and story to share. My question to you is, is all this planned out way before a blog? or do some of these great stories happen as you write? I know the blogs on landing a publisher we are viewing/reading you through it but the other stories, are these ones that you have saved up? or a little bit of both? I was just curious; and if you would allow me one more question, bzzz (from the talker hahha). I was curious if you have ever recruited any dogs from the homeland in the countries you are in Iraq, Afghanistan etc.?. It was a question that popped in my head, wrinkled my nose, these things happen to me lol:). Other countries have dogs obviously too but possibly culturaly, they may not be as valued and or maybe so by the natives, I am a learning, curious woman in Tempe, AZ:).

        Sincerely,
        Adriana Johnson

        PS I had a good Memorial Day Thank you. My parents came for a visit to see us, especially my son. They wanted to see him before we go away for two weeks in IL. We are visiting Steve’s parents flying out tomorrow. Steve was on duty most the weekend I am sure you can relate to being on duty on holidays. I hope your holiday weekend was filled with good memories and peace of those you know that have fallen. We called my nephew who is in the army. Blessings Kevin!!

        Reply
        1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

          Thank you Adriana. I just had a long 15 hour drive with an infant and you just made my day! :-)

          Honestly the whole thing about hired paws dawned on me when I was reading Matterhorn. I thought to myself- Hey different war but same issue.
          So I wrote a blog post about it. Then I just happened to cross paths with Danica on the internet and I started chatting with her. Once I found out who she was I instantly asked her if she would be willing to share her story. She graciously said yes. I knew her story is killer and needs to be told.

          I have blog posts written and ready to be published. At one time I had 14 in a que. I am now down to about five since baby Brady was born. My goal is to get back to maintaining a double digit que. I also write and publish pieces right away if I feel they are time sensitive. Like the one on writing you Senator to support the Canine Member of the Armed Service Act.

          Do you mean recruited for the dog program or for my own adoption Adriana.

          Reply
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    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Xavi. Thank you. While I don’t know Danica personally I am sure you are correct!

      Reply
  4. Ashlee

    She is an amazing woman, and I miss her dearly! I hope that one day, our paths will cross again! Thank you for telling her story!

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Ashlee I agree. What I find funny about people like Danica is they think there is nothing special about them. I, like most disagree!

      Reply
  5. Mark Lenger

    A well written and interesting story Kevin.

    After all Danica went though as a small child and to become what she has today is amazing. Danica’s mindset and determination are cleary represented in her accomplishments. One will never know how many she has saved from death with her skills as a handler.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thank you. You are def right Mark. We will get to that in her storyline but the impact on those she worked with is amazing.

      Reply
  6. Contractor

    I’m very proud to have Danica for a friend.This girl done an amazing job,sacrifice herself for her son,working for a shitty money,save many life’s with Alex and she never complain. Keep up the good work Danica!!!!

    Reply
  7. Evert & Monique van Seggelen

    We know Dada from Trebinje where we used to live until one year ago. She is a very special person, has a big heart for people and especially animals. She is also a brave woman who is not afraid of anything or anyone. We are very proud to know her.
    By the way a very good story. So when can we expect part II of Danica!!

    Reply
  8. Evert & Monique van Seggelen

    We know Dada from Trebinje where we used to live until one year ago. We know her as a very special person with a big heart for people and animals, especially dogs. She is the kind of woman who is not afraid of sticking her neck out or take any job to provide for her son. We are very happy to have Dada as a friend.
    By the way Mr Kevin a great story and when can we expect part II.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Evert and Monique! Thanks for stopping by and saying hello! I think as I write Danica’s story these attributes you describe will shine through…but thanks for confirming it for us!

      I just emailed D with some specific questions. I love deep details. I am writing her second piece right now. If you wish to stay updated may wish to subscribe to the blog. This will ensure you don’t miss nay posts!

      Reply
  9. Contractor

    Yes Kev,know you’re e-mailing her like 20 times p/d hahaha!
    She told me today she would like to thx to all here for comments but every time when she’s trying to do it some error was shown. Hope this will not last long and that she will be able to write few lines here by her self.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Yep- I like drilled down details…… that is my thing! I hope D breaks the code as well!

      Reply
  10. Sid Murray

    I also know DaDa from Trebinje. I was instructor for CIDC at the time. I choose her as a student to be an MDD handler and she was always hard working and enthusiastic about her work. Her and her MDD dog Cindy went on to do very important work in clearance.
    We have kept in touch over the years and I give her much praise for the work that she has done and the work that she is doing now. Bravo to DaDa

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Sid. I am actually writing about that part now….part II of D’s story- while she was at MDD school. Could I email you to get impressions of her as a student? I see there is no email in your info section of your comment. Could you email me at kevin@khanrahan.com. Thanks so much.

      Reply
  11. Frank

    Great story about Dada. I met her on Dec. 2010 at a Canadian COP. Our platoon (U.S. and only) was based there. She works hard when she leaves outside the wire and back on to care for her dog. We still keep in touch…..

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Cool Frank. As I get older I truly appreciate just how small military and it’s support network really is!

      D is really busy right now so I am delayed getting her next part written. There will be more to follow for sure though!

      Reply
  12. Foras Admonito

    Photo of soldier kneeling with dog is not Canadian. These soldiers are Australian Commandos from Australia’s Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan. Australian flag is clearly visible on soldier’s shoulder. Also, some of the soldier’s webbing is distictive ‘AUSCAM DPCU’ pattern.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      You have a keen eye Foras. I posted those pictures in honor of my Aussie Special Forces buddy Rossie. Rossie was a classmate of mine at the U.S. Command and General Staff college. I though the picture was terrific.

      Reply
  13. Elizabeth

    This is such an interesting story–the Bosnian War was relegated to a paragraph in my high school history textbook, and I never studied it in college, so I’m very interested in learning all that I can now. Thanks for sharing, and props to her for her dedication!

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Elizabeth. The war began when I was in college and I was quite ignorant to the whole thing. I chalk it up to young and dumb on the world happenings!
      I agree though…..it is part of history…European history…and it was a brutal and barbaric campaign of destruction. It is amazing how many people were killed in such a short period of time. Imagine…genocide in Europe in the 1990s.

      I spent two tours in Kosovo. Similar but different. I was able to see first-hand the aftermath of such destruction. It humbles you. It makes you appreciate what we have in the United States

      Reply
  14. Pingback: From the Minefields of Bosnia- Heregovina to the IED of Afghanistan | Kevin Hanrahan

  15. Pingback: A Child of War Clears Her Country of Landmines | Kevin Hanrahan

  16. Dan Aragua

    Gran historia de Danica. Es una mujer muy valiente y un gran ejemplo de la voluntad. Lo felicito a usted por su trabajo! Hay mucho que aprender de ella, su trabajo es muy especial!

    Felicidades Danica!! Saludos desde Mexico

    Dan Aragua

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hola Dan. Es genial para encontrarle. Creo que mi primer comentario en español. ¿Cómo fabuloso! ¿Trabajas con Danica cuando estuvo recientemente en México?

      Reply
  17. Marlon Teodoro

    I’ve been working last 2010 together with Danica in Canadian mission Contract as a k9 EDD.we met somewhere in Afghanistan which is FOB MASUMGHAR.she did a great job,working hard,everyday going out patrolling and missions for a few days outside the field just to search compound village and clearing roads as well..

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Marlon. Thanks for the confirmation. We are just getting to that part of the story and I am excited to start telling it!

      Reply
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  19. MilanChe_Legionnaire

    Only those who have lived and survived the war environment they know how it feels. Danica probably did not have Barbie dolls and puppets, as well as children’s peace and tranquility, lived the war – the war she played as a child. Probably, through all these years and all these events, and the opportunity that she had to demining her homeland, at that time, was perhaps the only chance for a safe job. However,” War Child” is a super hit and fit into it, and now we have formed a successful woman, one formed Instructor. She proved that a woman does not have to be in this world just makeup, buying a variety of dresses, follow fashion trends … but women can and something else: as Dada, a lot of!

    Greetings from the French Foreign Legion to Dada, sending her full support! Our Instrucor, stay yourself, stay Proud! Never forget where are you from, You are Serbian.
    We represent our country in the right light. We’re not as big as a race, but we are as a people. We are real, we are the best.

    Excellent article, which will, I hope, will soon resume. There are about this, Danica, yet to be written … To be continued …

    Држи се Дадо, стижем! :-)

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi, thanks so much for leaving us your thoughts. Agreed, the childhood Danica ensured in one that many who read this blog can relate to…….that is why here story is so important to share.

      Danica has risen from a worn torn childhood and through handwork, determination and the willingness to put it all on the line….has risen above She is a tremendous example of perseverance!

      Reply

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