LANDSTUHL, Germany — When they arrived in Afghanistan at the end of September, Sgt. Eric Goldenthal and his bomb-sniffing dog, Corky, were already pretty close.
At Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., they were members of an engineer battalion. In Afghanistan, though, they were assigned to augment an already-tight-knit Special Forces “Alpha” team in a remote part of the country’s east. There, away from people they knew, their bond grew stronger.
“I think he was probably my best friend down there,” Goldenthal said of Corky. “I saw him every day. He slept in my room every day, woke up with me every day.”
Then, on Jan. 19, they were both shot.
Goldenthal, Corky and the Green Berets were four days into a 10-day mission to rout out Taliban militants in Kapisa province, an area of the country where few coalition forces are based.
The team had spent days pushing up a valley that had just one way in and one way out, Goldenthal said. They’d gotten into numerous firefights along the way.
Goldenthal and Corky led the way, looking for buried bombs as Special Forces soldiers on foot and in vehicles scanned the hills. The first ambush came about a half hour after they set out that day.
An hour later, they were in another skirmish, Goldenthal said. They had four trucks with heavy machine guns, and all were close to running out of ammunition. They needed to get out of the valley to their resupply point before that happened.
Then the third ambush came, Goldenthal said, bigger than the first two. “We had to push through it.”
He kept alongside the lead vehicle to keep from exposing himself and Corky to the machine gun rounds and rocket propelled grenades raining on the convoy from at least two directions.
Then, the Taliban opened up on the convoy from a third direction.
“And that’s when me and him got hit, pretty much the exact same time,” Goldenthal said. “I just felt it hit the back of my leg and then I heard him crying.”
Goldenthal threw a tourniquet on his own leg and a team medic attended to Corky, who was shot in the foot.
After pushing to the valley’s mouth, dog and handler were whisked away to Bagram Air Field on a medical helicopter.
Two days later, they both underwent surgery in Germany — Goldenthal at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Corky at the Army’s Dog Center Europe, about a 20-minute drive away.
They got to visit Monday at Landstuhl, where Corky jumped up on his handler to bathe his face in wet dog kisses.
“It’s only been a couple days,” Goldenthal laughed.
Their injuries led to an impromptu family reunion of sorts for Goldenthal, whose wife, Lisa, was in Germany visiting her parents when she got news of his having been wounded.
Her nerves have settled since the initial shock, she said, which left her speechless.
“But I’m glad that they are doing OK and that they only got shot in the leg,” she said. “It could have been worse.”