John and HB

Our Returning Heroes

With heavy eyes Sergeant John Nolan shuffled through the Norfolk Virginia Airport. A faded green, tan and brown camouflage pack weighed heavily on his sagging shoulders. His right hand tightly grasped a black leash.

John smiled when he saw us waiting for him.

The sergeant had just endured a journey half way around the world from war torn Afghanistan to the quiet and deserted Norfolk, Virginia airport this past Saturday evening.

Sergeant John Nolan and Specialized Search Dog HonzaOn the end of the leash strolled a squarely build yellow Labrador Retriever. The Labrador had a black harness around his torso and the letters MWD emblazed on the side. It was Sergeant John Nolan’s partner, Specialized Search Dog Honza- aka Honza Bear.

Honza Bear pulled at the leash seemingly guiding the exhausted sergeant through the airport.

Their final patrol.

This was one last patrol for the pair on their yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. But this round would lead Sergeant John Nolan to his wife Cara, and their little girl Riley who was born while John served in Afghanistan.

On Saturday, December 9, 2012 Honza Bear guided Sergeant John Nolan home safely.

Excited to see his friends, Honza Bear pulled at the leash to greet the seven or so K9 handlers from the Fort Eustis Military Working Dog kennel who had come to welcome them home.

The fellow handlers hugged their brother in arms Sergeant Nolan while Honza Bear took the opportunity to leap up on each person and give them a special Honza Bear greeting.

Then it was my turn. John’s eye lids were heavy. His movement was slow.

I gave John a “man hug” and said, “Welcome home brother,” as I felt Honza Bear’s powerful front legs on my torso. I rubbed Honza’s head briefly as he sniffed my hand.

I wanted to give Honza a big hug and thank him for taking care of John and the members of the Green Beret team they worked with while in Afghanistan. But I didn’t want to delay John any longer from getting to his family back at Fort Eustis. Besides, now that John and Honza Bear are back at Fort Eustis I can see them anytime.

So I ended our exchange with, “Good work John. Congratulations on your promotion. It is well deserved.”

“Thanks Sir,” he replied.

What I neglected to tell you all is that John was given a battlefield promotion to sergeant last month. This is a huge accomplishment and a well-deserved promotion for John.

Specialized Search Dog Honza gets promoted

Honza also got promoted from Sergeant to Staff Sergeant. That is one rank higher than John. Honza’s rank isn’t official but is tradition amongst K9 handlers….the dog always outranks the handler.

As the group of nine soldiers walked to the baggage claim to secure John’s gear I saw a boy of maybe ten staring at Honza.

“Look mom, look, it is an actual military working dog,” said the boy.

I smiled and said, “That isn’t just any military working dog. That is Honza Bear,” as Honza led the K9 handlers holding his leash to the waiting van.

Honza Bear had his head down, tail wagging and I have no doubt he was sniffing for explosives!

Welcome Home Sergeant John Nolan and Specialized Search Dog Honza!

This week on this site will be dedicated to John and Honza Bear. Stay tuned for their next chapter in their story from Afghanistan on Thursday!

Click the Honza Bear tag below for this K9 team’s story!

Click here to subscribe and receive my weekly blog posts directly to your email. You don’t want to miss a thing!


32 thoughts on “Our Returning Heroes

  1. Karen

    Hi Karen. Now that their home, what will happen to Honza Bear now? Will John continue to work with him? Will he be passed off to another handler? I have grown to really adore that dog :-)

  2. Sally Lowe n

    So happy to know all is well with Honza Bear! What next for him and his handler? Congratulations to him also. We are thrilled about the legislation. My Mal Mirza says “way to go”. Now these hero dogs will have even better retirements with the ones they love.

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      They will take some vacation and then get back to work Sally!

      I just explained a bit to Karen but because Honza is an SSD the two will remain paired up even if John changes duty stations.

  3. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

    John and Honza will reintegrate….take some leave and then get back to training together. Once they are re-certified they will start conducting mainly stateside missions for their unit.

    Because Honza is a specialized search dog (SSD)…he and John will remain partners even if John moves to a new duty station. SSD normally remain with their initial handler.

  4. Kristen Shaw

    Hi Kevin:

    I am so happy that Honza and John will remain a unit for the duration of this mission in Afghanistan.

    The truth of this story is that I will never know what this man and military dog endure on a daily basis.
    God bless all soldiers and their dogs who have fought and are currently fighting a brutally difficult battle at the moment.

    Thank you for illuminating me, again.

    Kristen Shaw

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Kristen. Sorry, sometimes I forget that what I’m thinking isn’t what I’m conveying in writing! I’m institutionalized by the Army!

      HB and John are permanent partners. Their deployment o Afghanistan is complete…….they are now stationed at Fort Eustis, Va together.

      Eventually they will move to a news duty station but will go together as one team. :-)

      I agree we can never know what they go through but with great Americans like John telling us their story we can at least gleam some insight.

  5. Monica Burns

    Thank you to John, Honza Bear and all our men/women in the armed forces. As a veteran, I’m well aware of the sacrifices that are made during one’s service. Thank you for all you do. and How appropo that my captcha word is New Journey…sounds like John and Honza are embarking on a new one.

  6. Pingback: 2251 Wall St » The Relationship Between A Battlefield Bomb-Tech And His Dog Is Unlike Anything Else In The World

  7. carol batten

    Phew! I’m so glad they’re staying together.You really had me going there Kevin.Thoughts and prayers to them both.

  8. Nancy Tucker

    I cry every time I read one of your posts. You, our human and dog soldiers do so much to insure my freedom and millions of others. I am a huge dog lover and have three rescue dogs myself. I’ve been sick a lot and they’ve always been there for me. Just seeing this dog and their partners brings me to tears. I honor all of you and am deeply indebted to all of you for the work you do on a daily basis. May God go with you and protect you.

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Nancy. I find it so interesting that dogs provide such comfort to folks…whether they are sick, having a bad day or in a bad way in Afghanistan these little furry fellas are there for us!

  9. Jani Muhlestein

    Well, since you can see the two of them frequently, give that puppy a hug and kiss.And tell John thank you for his service from the Utah branch of the future MWD handlers of the US Army. Thank you so much, Kevin, for convincing the 14-year-old that she needs to be a handler and check for IEDs. NOT what her mother wanted. Navy anyone?

    Seriously, tell John how grateful we are for all his work. And give Honza hugs and kisses. And if he ever gets out to Utah, there’s a 7 pound Shih-Tzu named Tinkerbelle who really wants to meet him. (She licked the screen and barked. I’m concerned.)

  10. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

    I will Jani….. we are trying to link for lunch this week.

    Be careful what you wish for……. the Navy has handlers as well……they are deployed all over the world…including Afghanistan!

  11. mlombz

    Thnkx for a job well done to all these hero’s and their dogs. But, get ready guys the war just moved stateside. Boston.

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      I have no doubt that Boston PD has a terrific K9 division……though you bring up a terrific point about how lifesaving these 4-legged heroes can be stateside! :-)

      1. mlombz

        Its now a new age war fare that’s gonna need all assets. Look at how the FBI utilized citizens n the web in I.D.’g these 2 brother’s.

  12. scott buttler

    I have not been aware of the relationship between our soldiers & man’s best friend; I have a lot of catching up to do. God Bless soldiers & our awesome dogs!

  13. Dennis

    Amazing story… thank you and Honza for your brave service! I’m a crazy dog lover and a tremendous admirer and supporter of our troops, so your story combines two of the finest things in our lives as free Americans. God Bless you both… and your family.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>