Like any other four-legged friend, she’s pretty happy and lovable, but Layka, a Belgian Malinois, is more than man’s best friend. She is literally a life-saver.
As the ceremony began, a serviceman read the award aloud to the crowd gathered to celebrate Layka.
“On June 4th, 2012, while assigned to a Special Operations Unit in Afghanistan, Military Working Dog Layka responded to a building housing known terrorists. Upon assuming a concealed position, Layka and her team received indirect small arms fire resulting in three Hellfire Missiles being fired into the compound.”
When the gunfire stopped on that June day, she went into a building to clear the area of explosives and enemy combatants; she was ambushed by a terrorist.
“She was shot up a couple times and still proceeded to attack the person that was shooting her. That can tell you that dog means serious business,” said Major Jason Harris, the 341st Squadron Commander where Military Working Dogs like Layka are trained.
Training Four-Legged Warriors
JBSA-Lackland produces hundreds of working dogs for agencies like the Transportation Security Administration. They and their handlers do six months of training to get to the efficiency of Layka, a dog that goes directly into the line of fire to save lives.
“They’re just like us with learning abilities," said Harris. "Some are smarter than others, and some are a little slower, but eventually they catch on. And not all dogs make it through. Some don’t want to bite, no matter what you do to it, it’s just a loving dog and just doesn’t want to bite anybody.”
At any one time, 800 dogs are being trained here. Colonel Jeanne Hardrath said they are valuable in day-to-day security forces, but in a war zone, they are irreplaceable.
“There are just certain missions that are easier for our four-legged warriors to be able to do rather than our two-legged warriors," said Hardrath. "These dogs bring so much value added.”
Layka is a protective dog, so guys like Robert Hart, who helped rehabilitate her, respect her boundaries. She’s been through a lot, and he believes she knows that.
“Yeah, I do, honestly do," said Hart. "I don’t know if she knows what’s going on today but I think she realizes what’s happened to her. I love them. Without them I don’t think the military could exist, I really don’t.”
A Rare Honor for Dogs
Dogs typically only receive honorary decorations; official certificates are reserved for the human team member. This Certificate of Heroism could change the landscape of how working dogs like Layka are honored. Military leaders may request that it be recognized by the Department of Defense, and a memorial is in the works for dogs who have died in the line of duty.
With an amputated leg and shrapnel wounds on her abdomen, Layka is officially retired. She will leave Texas to be with her handler, a Special Operations officer now in Georgia who is her best friend in combat.
“It’s nothing less than heroic what she did” said Harris.
Major Harris thinks animals like this deserve the highest respect. He read from a poem called Guardians of the Night by an unknown author who wrote what combat missions are like from the dog’s perspective.
“Trust in me my friend for I am your comrade," read Harris. "I will protect you with my last breath…”
Layka was a guardian, a friend and a comrade for several brave men who are alive today because of her.