It was a sad parting when Sgt. Jason Bos left Fort Lee in Virginia nearly two years ago, and had to say goodbye to MWD Cila M389 — the bomb-sniffing chocolate Lab he called Cici.
For nearly five years, Bos and Cila — MWD stands for Military War Dog, and M389 is the identification number tattooed in her ear — searched for roadside bombs and hidden weapons caches in Iraq, and screened sites for presidential visits across the U.S., until Bos suffered a back injury that forced him to leave the Army in 2012.
But Cila was just 5 years old, barely mid-career for a military dog. As Bos headed home to Michigan, Cila remained on active duty. The pair were reunited today, when Cila arrived at O’Hare International Airport and stepped out of her travel carrier and into civilian life.
Any concern Bos felt that Cici wouldn't remember him was erased immediately as airline staff led the pup from its cargo facility at O'Hare.
"My heart is beating so fast," Bos said just before she lept into his arms and wiggled as the two embraced.
"I was very excited. She looked at me, she started smelling me, she knew me."
Bos and Cila trained together for months at the military kennel at Lackland Air Force Base, then served multiple overseas deployments starting in 2008. Cila was specially trained to sniff out explosives while off leash, responding to Bos’s shouted commands and hand signals as he and other soldiers trailed dozens of yards away.
“I’m getting really excited to see my dog,” said Bos, 33, on Tuesday. “It doesn’t always happen. I don’t know anyone else who got to have their dog when they got out.”
Dog handlers don’t always enjoy the regular esprit de corps of military life, because they can be assigned to multiple units, but they do bond with their dogs. While on base, Bos often spent his off-duty time playing with Cila at the kennel. On stateside duty, like checking the site of a presidential visit, the handlers and their dogs bunk together in hotels.
“They tell you not to get too attached, that they’re not a pet, they’re a tool to help keep people safe,” he said. “But it’s hard.”
But when the time comes for a soldier to go home, the specially trained dogs usually stay behind. Typically, a dog’s hitch in the military lasts until it can no longer work, at least seven years.
That’s was what Bos was told when he asked if he could take Cila home with him after he suffered an injury in training, and learned he had a degenerative disc problems in his lower back. Before he was injured, Bos had planned to become a police officer whenever he left the military. Since he got back, he has been taking business classes at a college near Grand Rapids, where he lives with his brother.
Bos had befriended the handler who was paired with Cila after Bos was discharged, and got updates on her as she moved from Fort Lee to a deployment in Germany. A month ago, he saw on Facebook that Cila was due to be retired from service, and he was thrilled when the kennel master at his former base contacted him to see if he wanted to adopt her.
“I said ‘Yes. What do I have to do?’” Bos said.
After filling out the paperwork, Bos contacted American Humane Association and Mission K9 Rescue for help with the expense of bringing Cila from Germany, and he will set out Wednesday from Grand Rapids to meet his dog at the airport.
“I hope she remembers my voice,” he said. “It’s been more than a year, but I think she will.”
Bos introduced his parents to Cila when they visited him at a stateside base, and he said his father has built Cila a dog house and his mother has a big yard for the Lab to play in. At home with Bos, Cila will have the run of the house.
“She’s been sleeping on concrete in a kennel her whole life,” he said. “She’s going to get to be on the couch, everywhere. She’s going to be living the civilian life.”