Soldier reunited with canine partner from Afghanistan tours
Staff Sgt. Andrew Wolf of Mattawan, Mich., a military policeman assigned to 108th Military Police Company, 503rd MP Battalion, 16th MP Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C., meets retired military working dog Iras at Raleigh-Durham International Airport June 19, 2014.
Sgt. 1st Class Iras has ended his military career and reunited with a Fort Bragg soldier who served as his partner for two deployments.
Iras, a 9-year-old German shepherd who spent six years in combat with U.S. troops, was reunited with Staff Sgt. Andrew Wolf on Thursday.
Wolf, a squad leader with 3rd Platoon, 108th Military Police Company, served with Iras in 2010 and 2011 in Afghanistan.
The pair worked together for three years while stationed in Germany with the 529th Military Police Company, he said.
Wolf discussed their partnership a few days before Iras arrived from Germany.
Wolf said he was introduced to Iras in 2009. By then, Iras was already a combat veteran.
"I felt secure," Wolf said of working with Iras. "I always trusted him."
The two had been based out of what was then Forward Operating Base Wilson for more than three months in 2010 when Iras had to be evacuated for emergency surgery in Kandahar because of stomach problems.
Iras lost his spleen and a quarter of his stomach but returned to Afghanistan after a four-month break.
The two redeployed for nine more months, this time in Herat.
"He's brought every handler home with him," Wolf said of Iras' service, which includes working with military police and Special Forces to sniff out roadside bombs and detect threats. "Even if you don't find any and nothing blows up, it's a successful mission."
But the service has taken its toll on Iras.
During one of those combat tours, the vehicle Iras was in was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, Wolf said. Last year, Iras underwent physical rehabilitation after he began to lose control of his back legs.
During that treatment — a piece of vertebrae was removed to release pressure on Iras' nerves — the Army decided to retire Iras.
It is an unwritten rule that past handlers get preference, Wolf said, and he requested to adopt Iras after talking to other handlers who had served with the dog.
"I spent three years, six to seven days a week with him," Wolf said. "He's pretty much one of my kids."
"My wife and I talked about it," he said. "But no matter what, I was going to bring him home."
Wolf said he knows there will be challenges. On top of Iras' physical problems, the dog has post-traumatic stress.
Caring for Iras will be costly, which is where friends and family have stepped in. They raised money to help build an air-conditioned kennel and dog run and to cover other expenses.
The nonprofit "Mission K-9 Rescue" paid for Iras' flight from Germany to Raleigh.
"He should be good," Wolf said. "I still have his harness, leashes and most of his favorite toys (from Afghanistan)."
Eventually, Wolf said he hopes Iras will be able to accompany him on Fort Bragg for unit functions and to work with veterans.
But his first priority is providing his old partner with a comfortable retirement.
"I am excited," Wolf said.