John and HB up next to a wall

Honza Bear Hits Pay Dirt

Army Specialist John Nolan’s heart pounded as he stared into the wadi in central Afghanistan. He wasn’t sure what lay beneath the loose, granular dirt.

Was there a 500-pound bomb buried beneath him? If that thing detonated, he would be dead.

This Part V of John and Honza Bear. If you haven’t already… may wish to read Part IV or skip back to Part I  prior to reading this one.

Maybe there were some homemade explosive or land mines? If they exploded right now, he might live. He might not.

Christ, this was crazy. Searching for something that could end his life instantly was insane. What the hell was he doing?

HB and the clay potHe missed his wife Cara. She was pregnant with their first child. He wanted to see his little girl born. He didn’t want to die in this Godforsaken shithole of a country.

He looked over his shoulder at Master Sergeant Johnny Ramey who nodded to him. Then he looked past Ramey to the others, the men of the Green Beret team he was assigned to.

Lean, mean and focused—these nine men had nearly 100 deployments among them. The country saw the Green Berets as supermen.

He knew better though. The Green Berets were just men like he was.

They have families.

They have children.

They would die for you, John Nolan. Now you need to make sure they get home safely to their families. Focus, Nolan.

They are your countryman. They need you.

They need the Bear.

Focus on The Bear. Be one with Honza Bear.

He looked down into the wadi which followed the natural contours of the land. During the rainy season the wadi probably carried water. Now it was just another place for the Taliban to set up explosives. Just another place to kill him and his countrymen.

But he had a secret weapon.

The squarely-built, tan, muscular, 100-pound Labrador Retriever moved slowly across the wadi. His nose was low and his tail wagged. He could have been any of the Green Beret’s family dogs back at Fort Bragg North Carolina. But he wasn’t.Military Working Dog Honza Bear Sniffing

A sniff here. A sniff there. Tail wagging. The Labrador appeared to be foraging picnic sites for picnic baskets. But he wasn’t.

Army Specialized Search Dog Honza Bear was on the hunt for explosives.

John followed Honza cautiously. Honza Bear’s yellow stomach was splotched with dark dirt marks. And he looked like he had dark brown mittens on.

What the hell is Honza doing? John wondered.

The local Afghanis said the explosives were in the wadi. Why was Honza Bear leaving the wadi?

Honza Bear paused, his tail wagged more quickly, and his nostrils flared quickly.

John shivered with fear and excitement because he knew that Honza Bear was “on scent.” Honza Bear could smell an explosive.

Honza Bear moved back up into the grape field. He sniffed the three-foot high thick dirt mounds but apparently didn’t like what he smelled. He went back down into the wadi and then back into the grape field.

He knew Honza Bear was trying to pinpoint the exact spot of the explosive. They called this “bracketing” in the dog world.

Honza Bear brushed by him, moving at a trot.

Military Working Dog Honza Bear SniffingJohn froze. He didn’t want to step on the explosive. It could be set up to blow with a pressure plate. His weight would certainly set the explosive off. And he didn’t want the men to step on it either.

“Master Sergeant Ramey, Honza is on scent. Back away,” John said.

Ramey nodded and placed the team into a secure perimeter, allowing John to focus on Honza Bear.

Honza Bear entered the wadi with his nose low and nostrils flaring quickly. He suddenly stopped and craned his neck up and out.

Had he found it? John wondered.

Honza Bear bolted up and out of the wadi, ran to a mound of dirt near the grape field, and disappeared.

What was going on?

“Honza,” John called as he followed Honza’s path. He knew chasing Honza Bear was risky.

It didn’t matter. Honza Bear was his partner.

He hated losing sight of his dog. John began searching the mounds but couldn’t find him. After a minute or so he caught a glimpse of a yellow tail.

Honza Bear had crawled into a hole half his size and was lying down in a final response. The John saw the five-gallon jugs wrapped in plastic inches from Honza’s nose.

John wanted to pump his fist in excitement. Honza and he had found an explosive. It was their first find. But there was no time to be proud or pat himself on the back.

They needed to get the hell out of there before it exploded.

“Honza, leave it, come,” John said.

Hearing his emergency recall Honza leaped up and jumped out of the hole. He rumbled towards John with his tongue nearly dragging on the ground.

John pulled out the dog’s reward–a ball on a rope–and tossed it in the air. Honza caught it in midair and chomped down. John hooked him up to the leash and dragged the euphoric dog from the spot.HB in the GM

Ramey had the team engineer, Sergeant First Class Kingston, inspect the hole and the explosives.

Ten minutes later Kingston returned and reported, “It is 25 pounds of Ammonia Nitrate Aluminum. We can blow it in place. “

It was confirmed. John’s and Honza’s first find! They had just prevented those 25 pounds of explosives from being used to kill or maim their countrymen.

It was an amazing feeling to remove something so destructive from the battlefield. John had just proven their worth to the Green Berets.

Maybe he could do this for a year.

John knew there was much more to find and remove.

And he knew one thing for sure. Today’s find was relatively simple. They wouldn’t all be like this.

But John wasn’t worried. He had Honza Bear.

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SSD Honza


27 thoughts on “Honza Bear Hits Pay Dirt

  1. Kristen Shaw

    Hi Kevin:

    I have to say that your blog is compelling and amazing. Your story is helpful for me to see with my own
    eyes, what the canines and soldiers abroad go through each day.

    I can only offer prayers.

    Thank you so much for Honza Bear and his journey.


    Kristen Shaw

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Cindy. Thank you. You helped by providing them that vest for Honza! Thanks for what you do as well!

  2. Karen

    A compelling account of what these handlers and dogs do everyday. John followed a rule I was taught when I did search and rescue “Trust Your Dog”. This am I am going to the press conference for Simsbury CT Police Department – Heros and Hounds supply drive spearheaded by Animal Control Officer Mark Rudewizc. Over 100 packages for handlers and dogs are going to the airforce base to be shipped out to them.

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Karen. You sure are right! :-)

      Mark just emailed me. Responding back to him is on my must do list today!

  3. Pingback: Man's best friend in the military,Dogs On Duty does it right | Daddy Mojo

  4. Pingback: Honza Bear Hits Pay Dirt | Kevin Hanrahan « The K-9 Experience

  5. Linda Brouillet

    your stories are so inspiring and insiteful – you are an amazing writer – and Honza Bear and his handler are awesome – thanks so much

  6. jessica

    Just a word to say, I never knew for one that canines were oversees and that they have such a big impact. Thank you for telling their stories! I have a deeper gratitude.

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Jessica. Thank you. That is exactly what inspired me to write about our dog teams. Everyone should know about the impact these kids and their dogs make on the battlefield. Thanks for saying hello Jessica.

  7. Sue Hains

    Kevin – Now I know what Honza looks like! And I know a little more about what he does. What a frightening life it must be for them both – altho’ they must be trained to not show it. Sue

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Sue. It is amazing how resilient dogs are to their environment. They work for the love of their handler. I am reading Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean and by all reports Rinty was the same way back in the day!

  8. Keith Baron

    I had a look at the first part of John and Honza and I was hooked,I had to carry on to read the amazing
    story of this team.Thank you Kevin for your excellent writing,it almost seems as though I was there,the troops and the dogs are wonderful.

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Awesome Keith. I had those landing pages developed so folks could get up to speed quickly on each team.

      You will see the same for all teams in the near future.

  9. Kat

    This series was excellent. I was so stressed on Part IV at the idea of John losing or not being partnered with Honzo. I’m a new subscriber and really love your writing.

  10. Elizabeth West

    I am a total lefty, peace-loving, anti-war Brit and this series has me weeping like a baby! What a wonderful team they are , where are they now? Safely home, I hope.

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Elizabeth. Sorry to make you cry! John and Honza have returned safely to the states. I just posted the next piece in their story this morning!

  11. Tami

    Captivating! LOVE the way you tell this incredible team’s story!! Subscribing because I cannot miss a thing now :-) Also adding John and Honza Bear specifically when I pray for our troops. Stay safe! <3


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