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.
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?
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.
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.
John 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.
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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