BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Jackson, a 10-year-old Belgian Malinois, sat at Harvey Holt’s left side.
Holt caressed the dog’s ears and petted the fur above the dog’s eyes as he spoke.
Calm now, Jackson’s brown eyes started to close, as if he was ready for a nap.
Seven years ago, Air Force Sgt. Holt handed Jackson over to his new handlers at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, after the pair served for six months together in Iraq.
Two days after their goodbye, Holt had Jackson’s face tattooed on his left leg, right where the dog would sit and heel.
He thought he would never again see his partner in war.
It took seven years and travel by commercial flight and rental car — donated by Marcy Cook — to reunite the two at Andrews Air Force Base on Wednesday.
Holt said he didn’t recognize his canine partner at first. Now retired from the military, Jackson has gained 10 to 15 pounds. His fur is fuller.
Holding the same brown leash and collar Jackson wore in Iraq, Holt froze. Then smiled. “Man, you’re fat,” Holt told his old friend. Tears of joy followed.
Military officials told him Jackson’s not the same dog he was seven years ago.
His temperament is different. He needs to be muzzled. He has degenerative bone issues in his back legs. Arthritis has set in.
Once the pair embarked on their 12-hour drive to the Hoosier state, Jackson became more relaxed. There wasn’t a whimper from the kennel in the back of their rented black Chevrolet Surburban. They took pit stops every two hours on the road.
Jackson started running toward Holt, excited. He again started taking to Holt’s left side.
At a hotel in Ohio, Jackson hopped into bed with Holt, who’s been spoiling his friend with dehydrated chicken treats.
They were treated to a hero’s welcome Thursday afternoon at the AMVETS Post 2000, where family, friends, Bloomfield police, Greene County medics, members of Bloomfield’s American Legion Riders 196 and other supporters gathered to escort them to Greene County.
They thanked Holt and Jackson for their service.
Before the two left Bloomington, Holt popped open the SUV’s back door. Jackson propped his front legs on the bumper and stood, unable to jump in. He wagged his tail. Holt moved toward the driver’s side of the SUV, gingerly lifting his dog into the back seat. And he rolled down the window so Jackson could have a better view and maybe hang his head out for the ride to his forever home.