War Dog: A Soldier's Best Friend (2017) Movie Script

"Peppy, I miss you so much. In this
ammo can are some things of yours
that we will bury
at your grave site.
We were unable to recover your body,
and I'm so sorry for that.
I put these items in the can
symbolically for you
until we meet again--
a jute, a Kong, a leash,
a bag of liver treats,
and your brush.
At some point when we meet again,
we can sit together
on the green hill
and relax like we used to.
You did what I could not do.
You willingly dove
into your only fear, water,
to engage a threat to your pack.
You did what countless rounds
of ammunition,
frag and stun grenades
could not do--
move the bad man
out of the hole he was in.
Once you pushed him out
the second time,
he was shot four times.
His body was seen floating down
the river later that night.
We'll never know who he
was, but this we do know.
He was bad, he intended us harm,
and nobody else
wanted to go in after him.
You did.
You're a warrior
I hold in the highest regard.
You are selfless love.
God bless you until we meet again.
Thank you."
All right, so now we're gonna chase.
Go, psst. Come on, come on.
Go on. Oh, good boy!
Oh, yeah!
-Good boy!
Hold on, hold on. Give me a second.
-Good boy!
All right, pull him off.
Good boy. That's him.
-Good boy!
-Oh, good.
Oh, good.
Messing with Belgian Malinois
and using them as attack dogs is--
to the untrained person,
it's a very stressful thing.
But if you go into it
very clearheaded
and you're fair with the
animal, it's not...
It actually relaxes me.
We take that dog everywhere.
You load that dog up on a C-17,
you strap it down, and you guys are
going to Afghanistan together.
You don't know
if that dog's coming back
and you don't know
if you're coming back either.
But you guys are gonna
fight like hell as a team
to get back at least in one piece.
Honestly, I decided to be a
Ranger to kill terrorists.
That's why.
When they're out there
killing your buddies
and you're out there killing
them, then that's what it is.
It's not unicorn and rainbow
vaginas, you know what I mean?
It's the fucking real deal.
I like the thrill of the hunt.
I like to chase you down.
And I noticed that
when I looked at the dog,
the dog kind of had the
same mentality that I had.
I had met Benno,
on a professional level, overseas.
Benno had more time in and more
deployments than most E-6s
in Ranger Regiment.
Stop and take a look.
That's an invaluable person.
That's an invaluable soldier.
That's an invaluable asset.
That is something that you
cannot go to PetSmart and get.
So, it was April 27th, 2012.
It was actually my birthday.
I think I turned 27 years old.
As we were flying in to the
mission, I got the squirter call,
which means we have guys fleeing
from the target compound.
Instantly, what that does to me
is that says, "Tonight's
gonna be a good night."
I got over to the radio and I
started singing "Happy Birthday,"
and the platoon sergeant
quickly got on the radio
and told me, "Shut the fuck up."
We landed, and right when we landed,
it was game on.
There was two military-aged males
running up the side
of this mountaintop.
We did a callout on them.
"Hey, you, this is us.
Please come out with your hands up.
This is other coalition forces.
We've been doing this for 10 years.
You know who we are.
Get the fuck out
of your fucking hole."
The two guys refused to,
so I sent Benno.
And he followed that guy's
footpath to the tee.
Benno bit the guy.
He had a nice, good, full bite
on the back of the tricep.
We started to close
the distance on the guy.
The guy wasn't screaming and
hollering like he normally does.
That's the first thing
that threw a red flag for me.
And I noticed that the guy
is not screaming and yelling
because he is actually
wrestling with this dog,
and he doesn't care
that he has, like--
a bunch of dudes around him.
And right before I could put
that safety selector switch
from "safe" to "fire,"
that guy had already killed my dog.
The guy instantly died.
I grabbed Benno.
I don't know if he knew
he was exactly there or not
or if he was losing
just a massive amount of blood
and he knew he was dying.
He wasn't trying to bite me or anything,
but he was alive
and he was blinking.
My finger was actually
in the neck wound of Benno.
I looked at the PA and I said,
"Hey, man, what can we do?"
And he just looked at me and he
said, "There's nothing we can do."
He said, "I'm sorry, man."
When we walked off that target,
you know, I was
still covered in blood.
And I picked up the phone,
I called my mother
and I called my wife,
and I just let them know
that, "You know, hey, it's my birthday.
You know, you guys"-- you know,
I didn't tell them anything.
You know, I just wanted--
I didn't want to talk
to anybody about it.
I just wanted it to be
my fucking birthday.
When Benno was gonna get
cremated in Kandahar,
I came out, and they had a full-blown,
like, ramp-side ceremony.
The regular Army, everybody, had
gotten together and done it.
And they gave me a toe tag
and an American flag.
I put it on an American flag
that I carried for six deployments.
And on the toe tag it says
"Staff Sergeant Benno,"
and then underneath it,
it says "hero."
And that's kind of when it hit me
that, like--you know what I mean?
Like, these--it's not only just me
and it's not only these Rangers,
but you have, like, regular Army people
who are, like, crying
because a dog's dead.
When I started to think about it,
and I saw that toe tag,
I noticed that
they weren't crying at a dog.
They were crying at a soldier.
They were upset
because a soldier died.
When I went back to the kennel,
they had a dog named Layka,
and that's when my trainer was, like,
"Well, Layka's really young.
This is her first deployment."
I said, "Yeah, but I want her."
You know, I was like, "I think
I can do something with her."
Come on.
She kind of has rule
of the roost, you know?
She doesn't get put in cages
and stuff like that.
They know it, too.
They do what they do
because they're pack animals.
They're always trying to get above.
They're always trying
to move up ahead.
You know, every dog here
knows that Layka's the one.
I can bring any one
of these dogs out here
and Layka will put them all
in their place,
and she has three legs.
Puppy doesn't want
to play with Layka
because Layka's too serious.
But she's like the mother hen.
She keeps everybody in check.
You know what I mean? She
keeps everybody in check.
Ain't that right, girl?
This is the only picture
I have of her with four legs.
Everybody always asks me
for pictures of her.
This is it.
Four legs. Right there.
That's all you get.
It's the only one I have of her.
And then, you got her.
Look at her. I'm sorry.
Layka, come on, honey.
Let's not do that today.
Oh, man. Come on, now.
Make this easy on me. Mm-hmm.
24 hours after I got Layka,
I was running targets with her.
That was my eighth
combat deployment.
You know, I had already lost
a dog at that point in time.
It doesn't really matter
who you're going after
just as long
as you get to come home.
It was only Layka's sixth mission.
This is all a very new environment.
Layka, she's getting
pretty amped up on the noise.
All I did was I just remained calm.
I had been in that situation
way more than she has.
I needed her to calm down,
so what I did was I took a ball
out of my pocket
and I told her to sit.
And when she'd sit, I paid her.
So all I was doing
is I was just changing
the game for her.
When the dust settles, like,
the whole front of this structure
was pretty much dilapidated in.
I looked at the squad leader and I said,
"Oh, yeah, I feel good about this.
You know, let's go ahead
and send her in."
As I'm moving through
this dense dust,
I can see Layka's
IR strobe flashing.
You can only see it
through your night vision.
I knew it was my dog and I went
to go investigate what she had.
That's when I saw the outline
of what appeared to be
an enemy killed in action.
And I said, "Okay, this guy
is--he's obviously deceased."
I got up to Layka and I remember
her tail touching my shins.
And I ran my hands up past her vest.
I remember my thumbs
touching her camera,
and that's when I grabbed on
to the back of her collar.
That's when the guy rose up.
It was so loud and it was so hot.
I had never been that close
to the opposite end
of the barrel before.
You know, I definitely
thought that was it for me.
And when I raised back up,
all the shots had already went off
and Para Green had came up
through the window
and he eliminated the threat
in about two shots.
That is when I started
to recall Layka.
And I could see her,
and she actually had
what it appeared--actually it was.
It was her right limb
was in her mouth
and she was trying to pull it off.
That's when we noticed that tricep
had been torn apart
by a AK-47 round.
I was like, "Great, again.
You know, another dog. Another dog."
It was a sock in the nuts
and and it hurt.
And I remember getting to the CSH
and thinking to myself, like,
"If she makes it through this--
you know, if she makes it
through this, I want her."
Fans, please direct your attention
to the north end zone
as we welcome Layka
to Neyland Stadium.
Layka is a decorated war dog
that saved the lives of
American troops in Afghanistan.
In honor of her
battlefield heroics,
Layka was featured on the cover
of "National Geographic"
in June 2014,
a symbol of the hero dogs
fighting alongside US troops.
Let's give a big
Orange round of applause
for the service dog and hero, Layka.
Oh, my God!
-Here she is.
-Hi, Layka! Hi!
Hi, baby girl. Oh, my God.
Look how strong she is.
Look how strong she is.
It's okay, babe. It's okay, Layka.
Hang on. You remember this place?
Do you remember?
Daddy knows how to make you
lay down better than I do.
There you go. Good girl!
-Okay, good girl.
-I got her face.
-That looks so much better.
-Yeah, yeah, it looks good.
She does not like
her feet messed with.
-She never has.
When we first started,
we couldn't do this
-without sedating her
almost completely.
She's a pretty lucky dog, for sure.
Those were some
pretty nasty injuries.
But I can tell you
she's adapted beautifully
because when she was here,
we'd play soccer with her toys
and we'd put a ball out there,
and she would take
that cast and whack it.
She had great aim. I mean, she was
a great soccer player.
She'd get mad if you wouldn't
kick it back to her.
Oh, God, I love it
when she does that.
It's so freaking cute!
After seeing her,
I just couldn't stop smiling
because she looked so good
and because I'm so attached to her.
And that's how you get with her.
To be a dog that can attack people
and to be so affectionate and loving
and just create
those kind of feelings
in people is amazing.
Good girl. Come on.
Good girl, good girl.
Oh, yes, she is so much better.
Come on. Come on, babe.
Good girl. Good girl. Good girl.
Good girl. Good girl.
Come on in. Go get it, go get it.
Go get it. Good girl, good girl.
Good girl, good girl,
good girl, good girl.
Good girl.
Layka, did you eat all my food?
It's really cool to forge that
bond and build that bond,
because we're more
of a team now than we were
when we were even in Afghanistan.
Where our bond developed
and where our team developed,
it was developed when we were
out hunting for deer antlers.
And that's what she likes to do now.
She likes to hunt for deer antlers,
she likes pets on her head,
and she likes to watch "Grey's Anatomy"
from time to time.
That's her favorite show
is "Grey's Anatomy."
They took it off air,
which about killed her.
But, you know, every once in awhile,
we get some reruns, so it's good.
She likes her "Grey's."
You know, she wasn't big
in combat with me,
but she went through
a lot of life things with me.
After being blown up in 2009,
I got addicted to my painkillers.
I mean, she helped me
through that addiction, man.
It was lonely, you know.
My ex-wife takes my kid
and moves all the way back
to Arkansas, 625 miles.
At the end of the day
when everything fell apart,
the only person
that had me grounded was her.
She couldn't speak to me,
she couldn't say,
"Hey, pull your head out of your ass
and get your shit together."
No, she could only look at me,
you know, and console me
when I was, you know,
in pain, trying to get
the stuff out of my system
or, you know, just an emotional pain
for my--you know, my ex-wife
taking my kid and leaving.
I mean, that was tough.
Layka really helped me
keep my sanity through it all.
She's not a dog,
she's her own person.
She's got her own agenda.
She's got her own scheduling.
She does her own thing.
I don't know what it is day by day
what her scheduling is,
but I remain flexible
because she is very, very needy.
At the end of the day, I can sit
on my couch and I can look at her
and I can put my forehead on hers
and, you know, just take a deep
breath and let everything go
and kind of be at my place of peace.
And that's--you know,
that's what feels--
you know, that's what
feels good to me.
Today some North Mississippi
crime-fighting dogs are being
honored in DeSoto County.
North Mississippi reporter,
Michael Clark, joins us live
with the "High 5." Michael?
K9 units often keep folks
safe in DeSoto County,
but this past week,
patrol units took home first place
out of more than 100 teams
in an annual competition
held in Indiana.
The three dogs-- Sammy, Mika, and Max--
-That's her.
-appear on our video.
They took home the gold
in the 13th Annual
American Working Dogs
Canine Olympics.
This is from 2012.
On it, it has the name
of the handler.
Paul Leslie,
Deputy Paul Leslie, 2012.
So, there's a good chance that it's
still the same handler from 2012
that she's probably with.
Good afternoon. DeSoto
County Sheriff's Department.
-May I help you?
-Yes, I'm trying to get in contact
with someone
in the Canine Department.
Do you need somebody
in the Canine Department?
-I can give somebody a message for you.
My name is Sergeant
First Class John Dixon.
There was a military working dog
that I had worked with, Mika.
A little female Malinois.
I think I know who actually may have
had something to do with that dog.
All right, I will get somebody
to give you a call back, okay?
-And you were the owner?
-All right, bye.
Now it's still waiting.
-Whoa, Mika!
-Okay. Whoa, Mika!
Whoa, zoek!
Yeah! Yeah!
-Yeah, buddy, go.
-Hey, get him!
In 2006, the command
had made a decision
that we'll start
our own Ranger dog program
with Ranger dog teams.
I was fortunate enough
to be one of the four
that was chosen
to go start this program up.
I actually left Afghanistan
a little bit early.
They sent us off to the dog school.
And that's where I first met Mika.
As soon as I got there,
they took the four of us
and they paired us up with a dog
and they said, "This is your dog."
So, I was a little nervous,
actually, when I first met her.
I was like, "I don't, you know,
know how to really
approach this dog yet."
You know, our instructions were
just hold the leash
and walk around with them.
Wherever they want to go,
just walk with them.
It's amazing,
just by holding a leash
with a dog attached to the other end,
like, how they can pick up
on any little cue that you have.
You know, even when we weren't
supposed to be working or training,
we'd be working and training,
which for her,
it's not work and training,
for her, that's, "Hey, Daddy's here.
We're having time together.
It's fun."
And for me it wasn't really
working or training either,
to be honest with you.
It was fun, it was enjoyable,
and I loved doing it.
Her being my first dog,
we worked so much together
and I spent so much time with her.
We built that-- you know, that...
really, really strong bond.
Whenever she left, there was only--
you know, there was only
a handful of things
that I could keep, you know?
I would love to have kept her with me,
you know, forever,
but, you know, that's not--
it wasn't possible,
so I kept what I could,
and this collar was one of
the things that I could keep
that, you know, she had
from the time I got her
till-- till the time she left.
And then the other thing
that I kept was
a picture of her that--
we had all of our dogs.
We had taken a picture
of them and blown it up,
and we put them in little frames
and we had them hanging
on the kennel walls
so that, you know,
when you came in the kennel,
it'd be all the dogs
up there in a row.
I want to get it kind of cleaned up.
During the move,
when we were moving,
it kind of got a little damaged.
But it's the only picture--
the only big-frame picture
that I have, so I still keep it up.
These were her call signs
that she wore on her vest.
So, she was wearing this one
on the mission night
where I was wounded.
And, you know, all that happened
and we got separated.
That actual brownish-red color
is actually blood from the mission.
I just never cleaned it.
I just left it the way it is.
I thought about cleaning it
or wiping it off,
but it just-- I just
left it the way it is.
I just feel like
I don't want to change
anything from it, so.
Then this is the kit
that I was wearing
on the mission
where I was shot with Mika,
and it's got the bullet hole
where it went through there.
On my eighth deployment,
the second deployment
with Mika to Afghanistan,
the third weekend, we walked
straight into an ambush.
Pretty much the worst imaginable
situation you're gonna walk into.
It was just a blaze of
flashes in front of me,
and so all I can do
is hit the ground
and shoot at the flashes.
Mika started going crazy.
The anxiety started to build in her.
She's want-- she's rearing to go.
I'm keeping her attached to
me the whole time on a tether
and trying to keep her calm.
And I start hearing
the radio traffic
that we're taking
mortar fire and rocket fire
from the outlying compounds
that we had passed.
We knew we weren't gonna push through
this and fight through this.
We knew we needed to break contact.
We had a AC-130 and a A-10
circling above us, taking turns
hitting this target.
It sounded really powerful.
The explosions looked huge.
I thought the enemy would just stop
shooting at that point, you know?
But they didn't.
A few of them broke off with AK-47s
and went down
the backside of the hill
and kind of looped around
and came to our left flank.
I had one hand
on my dog like, you know,
telling her to calm down,
and, you know, bring
my other hand up to shoot.
That's when I just,
you know, felt a hit.
I didn't know what it was.
I didn't know
if it was a fucking rock--
it felt like a rock.
It felt like a huge,
like, sledgehammer hit me.
When I fell to the ground,
I lost all control over her,
and she was just barking
and making a crazy noise
and rearing and jumping up and down.
And, you know, I was trying to get
my dog with one hand
and get my weapon back up,
and I could only use one arm.
My other arm just wouldn't work.
And before I could
even think too much,
one of my Ranger buddies
who was running with me,
just grabbed my carrying
handle on my body armor
and started dragging me backwards,
and the dog's trying
to run the other direction
towards the people
that are shooting at us.
She's trying to run that a-way
and barking and pulling against me,
and that's when
one of my Ranger buddies
popped the tether loose
and he took her and walked
her over to the side.
Like, just a few seconds after that,
and then a round hits.
That's kind of
when I lost sight of her
and, you know, started going
in and out of consciousness.
And that's when...
they slid their hand under
my body armor in the back,
and they said this--
like, all four fingers
like this went into,
like, a big hole.
And then they pulled it back some,
and that's when they noticed, like,
you know, just the massive amount
of blood that was coming out.
So, then they, you know,
started working on that.
I was tied down to a stretcher,
and I was being carried.
But I do remember intermittently
throughout the exfil,
I'd ask about my family,
then I'd ask about Mika,
then I'd ask about
my family and Mika.
My main concern with my family
apparently was making sure that
they talked to my wife and she
wasn't mad that I got hurt.
And then--because
I'd always told everybody--
no one, you know,
in my family really knew
exactly what I did and stuff.
You know, all the BS stuff
that we tell people
to comfort them
and make them feel all right.
You know, "I'm not
really that important.
I don't really engage with a
lot of stuff," or whatever.
Of course, that's hard to
hide once you get injured.
You know, I wake up
and I'm like, "All right,"
you know, "Where did
all my Ranger buddies go
and where's Mika at?"
You know, they talked to me.
They're like, "Hey, we've
already notified your family.
And, by the way, we flew Mika here.
Do you want to see her?"
And I'm like, "Yes, I want
to see her. Of course."
And as soon as she came in there
and she seen me,
she tried to jump on my bed.
And the doctors, they
didn't like that very much.
They're like, "Ah,"
but we're like, "Whatever."
She didn't jump all the way on the bed,
but, you know, she--
halfway up on the bed.
It made me feel so much better.
And they had also taken her out
and they had explained to me, like,
"Hey, she's gonna stay here"
while I was medevaced
back to the U.S.
'cause they felt that,
you know, she could still
serve the mission there
if they paired her up
with somebody else.
The kennel master and handler
came and picked her up
to take her to work,
and she wouldn't.
She quit.
She would just run back
behind everybody,
cower behind their legs,
whatever the case,
even when there was no danger.
You know, she was suffering
from PTSD from that
and from the separation, I think.
If the last thing that you saw
was stuff blowing up,
and then all of the sudden
you don't see
your partner anymore, you know,
there's all kinds of things
that go through your mind.
At that point,
it becomes the liability
to the dog and the handlers.
As they realized, you know,
I was gonna be able to recover
and get back to handling dogs
and get back to doing
the Ranger mission,
they decided that it'd be best
to retire her out
to a police department.
They felt that she was still
a pretty young dog
and she could be useful in
the civilian police sector.
For the first time,
it was explained to me,
you know, everybody gets
their first dog back.
You're gonna get this dog back.
That was the ease that I had.
That was the only comfort
that I had,
knowing that one day, you
know, I would get that call.
I mean, obviously, she didn't know
that she was leaving
to go somewhere else.
There was no way
to explain that to her.
Like, "Hey, Mika,
you're-- I'm not gonna see you again
for a long time, if not ever."
-Make her sit.
Blijf. Blijf.
-Now throw it. Throw it.
-Blijf. Blijf!
-Throw it.
Bring it, girl! Come on.
Your turn, Pops.
All right, hey.
Let's chill with the ball throwing.
-She's moving kind of slow.
-Mika, search!
-Grab the ball.
I really don't have
a whole lot of details
that I know about her past
other than she came
from the Army Rangers
and she was involved
in some combat situations
that ultimately caused her
to, you know, shut down
as far as working.
I knew that she had had
a handler that had gotten shot
and that she had had some problems
as far as turning the light back on
-and getting back into work.
-Come here.
-Come on.
-Hey, come here.
Mika, here.
I had her about three weeks
before we started dog class.
We'd come home, we'd play ball,
and I'd give her a bath and brush her,
and just slowly starting
to build that friendship,
that bond where she would
trust me enough
to when I call her, she'd come.
You know, 14, 15, 16 hours a day--
I mean, a lot of people
don't spend that
even with their wives.
You know, they wouldn't even want
to spend it
with their wives that long.
Mika, hey.
-Good girl.
-Love on her.
-Say, "Good girl."
-Good job!
It's not like
we're baking cookies here.
You know,
we're going after bad guys.
We're trying to get, you know, drugs
and explosives off the street.
She is just one of those dogs--
she's one in a thousand, you know?
You very rarely find
a dog that has the
temperament that she does,
the social ability that she has,
you know, the ability
to come in here
and lick on the kids' faces
and then turn around and go outside.
And if we had to bite somebody,
hey, we're all in.
-I love her like one of the kids.
It is that strong.
-This is Paul Leslie.
-How are you doing?
Oh, Paul Leslie. I'm SFC Dixon.
I was Mika's handler
when she was with
the Ranger battalion.
-Oh, yeah. How you doing, man?
-Good, good.
-I'm doing good.
I was trying to track her down
and find out what her status is
and how she's doing, and...
She's doing good.
Obviously, she's all up there
and she can't-- she moves
around kind of slow,
but she's been doing pretty good.
She's been doing pretty good.
-So, she is retired?
Okay. So, how long
has she been retired for?
We just retired her last month
as far as paperwork goes.
-Just last month?
'Cause I was told
that I'd have the option
to pick her up when she does retire.
I understand, well...
We give the handler the option
when we adopt them out,
obviously, to keep them.
And I've taken that option
and that's the option
I'm gonna stay with.
The way I've always seen it
is, you know, that was--
you know, that was kind of like a
promise with the sheriff department.
And then, you know, one day,
you know, like, when--
and especially now,
you know, like...
now I'm not deploying and stuff
and, you know, we'd be able
to be reunited and so...
I'm just really struggling with...
with a lot of that right now.
I'd be more than happy to get
you some pictures of her
or anything like that.
If you would be willing
to take the pictures.
-Are you there?
-Yeah, I'm here.
I'm sorry, I just,
you know, like I said,
I'm going-- you know,
I'm just thinking about this
really hard right now and...
I mean, I got pictures of her.
I'm not trying to turn down
your pictures,
I'm just saying...
I just feel like I need
more than just pictures.
-I understand.
Well, Mr. Dixon, why don't you
give me a call back tomorrow?
I've gotta take care of my little
ones here in just a minute.
Shoot me a call tomorrow.
Okay, well, I'll call you tomorrow.
All right, Mr. Dixon.
-Okay. All right, bye.
-All right, bye.
You know, even if
I could pick her up
to go camping here and there,
whatever, you know, like,
I just want that
relationship back with her
and I want to be able
to help care for her.
I mean, that would mean
a lot for me if I could just...
Even if Paul doesn't need the help,
I mean, if he would
just let me help care for her,
that would mean a lot for me,
'cause I feel that I owe her that.
And, you know, I'd love
to do that for her.
Thank you.
So, John has this way of...
things about him where he doesn't--
he doesn't like to show
if something hurts,
or he doesn't like to show
if something's bothering him,
so he just kind of compartmentalizes
and he deals with it on his own.
So the picture that
people see on the outside
is happy John, funny John,
levelheaded John,
but... in his sleep
or in those moments
where it just spills over...
you see it, I mean,
the hurt or the guilt
when he talks about her
or when he goes back
and looks at those pictures.
There's one picture we have
of the day that she left.
It was the last day
we spent with her,
and you can just see it on his face
and you see it on her face where her
ears are just laid down sideways
and he's holding her like a baby.
And... that's where
the hurt comes out.
And it spills over.
Most of the time,
he just pushes it down
'cause he doesn't want
everybody else to see.
'Cause, for him, it's like weakness
and Mr. Big Ranger, tough guy.
They don't show weakness.
They don't want you to know
that something hurts.
-What's up?
-Hey, buddy. How's it going?
-Hey, man.
Haven't seen you in 100 years, man.
-Yeah, I know, right?
-...later. You want a beer?
-Yeah, sure.
-Drink a beer.
-You're not in the government now.
-Where's the Nukes dude at?
He's in the backyard.
-Loving it.
He's an old-- retired old man.
But he'll still bite you. He'll
still bite you. Come check him out.
-He's like superdog.
-That's awesome.
-Yeah. Boom, the sneak attack.
-Yeah, see?
-Look at that.
He probably remembers you.
Come out, come on.
-Hey, buddy.
And you didn't become a snack.
That's good.
Trying to get Mika back.
-And then, which--
We'll see how that goes.
Yeah, Dixon,
he was just a pioneer
in his own right.
I'd say he's got the demeanor
that works with handling.
You can't be a guy that shoots off
and gets frustrated.
He's just a real kind,
patient, quiet kind of guy
that worked well.
Good boy.
Good boy. Af.
Good boy. Yes.
Good boy. Yeah.
-Yeah, that's a good boy.
-He's still good.
Still good. He's like,
"Everything's coming back to me."
-I am a war dog.
We have the lame sleeve.
Mm. The "I don't want
bruises on my arm" sleeve.
And we have the fun sleeve.
And the "I'm for sure gonna
have bruises on my arm" sleeve.
So, whichever one.
Pick your poison.
Very nice, and I know
he knows the smell.
He's probably, like, right
there, like, "Where is he?"
-Yeah, so he'll--
-Where's that guy at?
He is right here.
What is he doing?
-You ready?
-Watch him.
-Watch him.
Good boy!
Yeah. Good boy.
Good boy.
There we go. There we go.
Good boy. Good boy.
He did not want to release that.
Yeah, that was good. He's
still got a strong bite.
-Still got a chomp. Good!
-Once he got his mouth full on it...
Good boy, good boy, good boy.
That's pretty good.
He's like, "I want more."
"There's more!
I still see the sleeve!"
Good boy! Good boy!
I think Dixon
is still kind of where I was,
just waiting on the word.
He's in the waiting stage.
Getting Nuke back...
he's that final thing
that's bridging and making
what I used to do an actual reality.
And he lives in my backyard.
And I get to see him
every single day
and remember all that--verything we did.
When I look at him and know
that he did every
single thing that I did
for the last three years
of my career and--
he Rangered up
just like everyone else did.
And his transition--
he could care less.
Like, he's a dog.
He's not struggling with it.
It's like if he's not struggling,
like, I don't
have to struggle with it.
It's awesome coming here
to see Nuke with Donovan.
It really kind of drives it home
that, like, this is
the way it should be.
It should be like this for
every, you know, dog team
that serves the country.
It should be us out there,
you know, on the grill,
tossing little pieces
to Mika and Nuke, you know?
But Mika's missing out
of that equation,
and I believe that
she should be here with us.
Are they all in?
No. Oh, okay.
Hold on, hold on.
Oh, hold on.
Part of yours fell out.
No, Rollo.
Get where you're supposed to.
At first, it was shocking.
You know, we've had her this long
and I didn't know
anything about John.
And then to tell us that, you know,
"I was promised her. I want her."
That's the first
we had ever heard of it.
Yeah. Well, that's a promise
we never made.
-I have never talked to John Dixon
up until recently on the phone.
I don't look at it as we were
stuck being babysitters.
No, I don't look at it like that.
We absolutely got the
better end of this bargain.
-Come on.
-Bye, hon.
Bye. Hey.
Quit fighting! Shh!
And we don't even look
at her as she's a dog.
We don't consider her a dog.
-I mean, she's...
-Yeah, I mean, she's--
-She's a human to us.
And then to say you want her,
"I was promised her," that was...
I'm not gonna lie, I cried.
That was upsetting.
I'm like, "Is this true?
Are we gonna lose her?"
Well, I'm not gonna lose her,
'cause she's a-- you know,
-she's a part of the family.
It'd be like, you know,
one of my kids were gone.
Most nights,
you can tell that he's
dreaming about something,
whether it's trigger
squeezes in his sleep,
and if he's got his arm on mine,
then I feel his finger
squeezing triggers.
But a lot of nights it's still
calling out her name
when it's that scenario
of getting-- the night that
he got hit all over again,
so he'll, "Mika, Mika."
Or just one big shout of "Mika."
There's a lot of things
that, you know--
that I never want to forget.
But at the same time, I don't want
to think about them ever either.
And some of them thoughts,
you know, they just--
are hard to go away.
And it's not that you want
to completely, like,
pretend that it never happened.
I mean, you kind of do,
but it's impossible.
But what you can do
is take your mind off of it
by doing things, you know?
You know, I spent a lot
of time on deployments,
a lot of time doing things
that, you know--
that aren't normal.
And... this is very normal.
Very simple, very normal.
You know, it's not like
I'm trying to run
from my feelings or anything,
like I said.
It's like, you've just gotta
get away from it sometimes.
Like the pressing thing, like,
even with Mika, you know?
I can't stand giving up on things.
I just keep fucking whacking it.
Oh, yeah, this one's a monster.
One of my biggest fears
and one of his biggest fears
is that she's older
the thought of her passing
before he gets to see her
and have that guilt
lifted off of him
and have that release
of knowing that she's okay
and that she's happy
and that she's healthy.
And that that will--
that pain will stay with him forever
is like hell.
Because if he can't
find a way to let that go,
then it'll always be there.
You know, like that hole forever.
'Cause it doesn't matter
how many new dogs
come in and out, she's there.
And if he can't know
that she's okay,
then it's...
he's not okay.
To finally pinpoint, like,
I found her, this is her,
this is where she's at,
and then get shut down
and turned away again,
it's just all that comfort
is just gone.
I mean, you know,
I was still holding on
to this little bit of hope,
this little bit of hope,
but every time, it gets a little
harder and a little harder.
And, you know, I'm just trying not
to let it completely crush me,
but, you know.
And that's why I gotta
keep going at it,
and, you know,
it's gonna happen, so.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
Let angels watch me
through the night
and keep me safe till morning light.
-All right.
-All right.
Give Mom a kiss. Good night.
Love you.
There's the war after the war
that you don't know is coming.
You might hear about it.
I heard about it
from my Vietnam friends.
But you don't know it's coming
until you're in it.
For a lot of years
I was angry at myself
and at a lot of things and confused.
Because it may be just a dog,
but she was my best friend.
So, after Pepper died,
you get to where
you realize you have to move
on with life, and you do,
and it's a process to figure it out.
At this point, 10 years later,
I want to talk about this.
Basically, I got home
after my last rotation.
I put it all in a box and
haven't looked at it since.
This was her.
Sort of first photo
as she first got to the unit.
This is a-- just a map
of where she died.
I think I fed her
out of this napkin.
Or brought some steak down
from the chow hall for her
the night before she was killed,
and then it was still in her kennel,
so I just wrote her name on it
and tacked this up somewhere.
This is a letter I wrote to Pepper
that I forgot about till just now.
"Peppy, I miss you so much.
In this ammo can
are some things of yours
that we will bury
at your grave site.
We were unable to recover your body,
and I'm so sorry for that.
I put these items in the can
symbolically for you
until we meet again--
a jute, a Kong, a leash"...
So, while I can't say
what the unit is,
I can say that I tried out
for it and I made it.
And it was the absolute
greatest day of my life
when I made it.
My daughter hadn't been born yet,
but getting selected
after selection was amazing.
I asked if I could be
a canine handler.
Went over to the kennels.
I was shown around.
I was shown all the dogs.
All of them were males
except for one dog named Pepper,
this Belgian Mal who just sat there
in her kennel and looked up at me.
And, you know, I could
look down and see her,
and she looked at me,
and-- just a cute little dog.
And I asked, "Why is this dog here?
Is she somebody's pet?"
"No, she's a working dog.
She'll dirty up just fine.
Don't worry. We've seen her bite."
And I still didn't believe it.
She was small.
She was 50 pounds, if that.
She also had a hyperintelligent
look in her eyes.
That she would tilt her head
but look at you, and you could--
I could tell she was
thinking and feeling.
I don't know why I fell in love
with her instantly, but I did.
We're trained
in a dog handler's course
to not turn them into a human being,
but it's so hard not to.
I mean, the dog hugged.
She hugged me.
She came up, put her arm around me,
and put her head against my neck.
I don't know
how dogs do that, but she did.
She was hilarious. I mean, I could tap
my shoulder right here
and she would jump up,
spring up in the air
and land in my arms,
and then just sit there
and look at everybody.
It was almost like she was
trying to get laughter.
She was a lapdog
who became a beast of fury
on target.
I wanted to establish
a bond between us
'cause I knew we were getting
ready to go to war.
It was coming within months.
I didn't really know what I was
doing either, to start out.
Nobody does with a new job.
You learn each other's
movements and voices
and just-- you learn
each other's subtle cues.
And I learned hers
and she learned mine.
If I turned left,
she would move back and left.
I mean, we just--
the more we worked together,
the more we got in sync.
I taught her to bark. There's
a command in Dutch to bark,
which most people don't do.
Why would you want your dog to bark
if you're going to a target
and you're trying to be quiet?
I taught her to bark
because I wanted to give her
the counter command to be quiet.
Stil,which is "zip it, be quiet."
Saturday afternoon,
she came up next to me
and just flopped her head
on my chest.
And I laid back and we--
she fell asleep,
and I just let it happen.
she would lick my face
or nuzzle my ear.
And that's really
what I was going for,
was that bond
that couldn't be broken.
It was really like having a sister
or just a great friend at my side
all the time in war.
It was a very special bond
that happened with us.
When we would lose a man,
when somebody would get killed,
and it's real quiet in the house
and nobody wants to talk
and they can't sleep anymore,
and people are sad,
then Pepper comes out
and sits in their lap
and makes it a little easier.
I would just hear people
laughing down the hallways.
She was making her rounds.
She would go and see people.
She would make--he would visit the guys.
About once an hour,
she would just come up
and I could feel her nose
on my hand.
She would just come
and nudge me a little bit.
I'd pet her a little bit.
She'd lay back down.
She served way more of a purpose
than helping to find bad guys
or sniffing out a bomb.
That's a strong word.
Hey, Pep-Pep.
Hey, Pep-Pep.
The more I think back
on it now, the more I...
really think there was
an element that can't be explained.
Just a link between man and dog...
that special doesn't do it justice.
I mean, it's a profound thing
going on there
between handler and dog
that's nearly impossible to explain.
It was a rough night
because my friend had
just died the night before
and we had been woken up early
to plan for this huge thing,
so we didn't have
much sleep, both of us.
We landed, and Pepper and I got out.
It was on the bank
of the Tigris River,
and it sloped down steeply.
It was a muddy slide down
into thick brush
where the person was hiding.
There was houses right there,
and kids live in those houses.
It was too close to level it.
We tried for hours and hours.
I was getting close.
I wanted more than anything
to be able to shoot the guy
and not have to send Pepper.
So, she's in drive. It's pitch-black
at night. You can't see anything.
She's running up to the
other teammates, her pack.
She knows it's them.
She's almost going to them
for permission to go after this guy.
She's going up to each guy.
I sent Pepper once.
She went after this guy,
disappeared into the brush.
10 minutes, 15 minutes later,
she came back to me up the hill,
sort of sluggish and all wet.
And she didn't like to swim.
She didn't like water, so I
knew she had been in the water.
I'm checking her.
I had been trained medically
to search the dog for any issues.
She sort of comes back to life.
You know, she gets the pep back
in her step and she's okay.
I tried to love her up a little bit,
but she didn't want that.
She wanted to go work.
She knew where the guy was.
I knew that she knew
because she was pulling on me
and she wanted to go there.
She wants to bite like nothing else.
After hours of trying,
I decided to send her again.
And she sort of sprung through
this high grass a little bit
and turned back and looked
at me, which she didn't do.
She just had this look
that I hadn't seen in her.
She was thinking.
She was looking at me
and thinking something
and she was feeling
something as well.
And I'm looking at her through my
night vision, and it was just,
"I love you
and I'm doing this for you,
and see you later."
She went over into that brush,
into the spider hole
where this guy was hiding.
After she pushed the guy
out of the hole,
and he moved to the right
down south on the riverbank,
the team went after him.
Now it's time to find Pepper.
And she wasn't coming back to me.
I asked everybody on the ground
to start looking for her.
There was a lot of people
there that night.
Everybody's searching.
After five minutes,
they said, "We found her."
And so, oh, I was relieved.
And then they said, "Oh, I'm sorry,
it's just her marking device,"
her light that had come off
of her somehow,
and it had to be in a struggle
because it was secured
to her working vest.
So, we knew that she had been
in a struggle.
These teammates
and these brothers of mine
and these uncles to her,
already cold and wet, but
they got colder and wetter
by searching in just nasty, wet,
swampy holes that nobody
would want to go into.
It was her family.
Her family was looking for her.
Her brothers
were gonna do everything
they could do to find her,
recover her,
and help her just like
she had done for us.
There was just a...
a sadness that came over everybody.
I could feel it.
And, at one point,
I loaded up with another guy
on a helicopter
and we were just flying sideways
looking for her
on the bank of the river.
We did everything
we could to find her.
Nobody gave up.
We had to be told,
and more than once,
to abandon the search.
The call came that the sun's up.
It's light.
We're gonna get people killed
if we stay here.
And it started to set in
that I'm not gonna get her.
The helicopters picked us up.
We flew five minutes
back to our house.
Then when I hit the ground there,
the sun was up by that time,
and I knew that was it.
And I had her kennel,
her empty kennel,
and I just took it out and threw it
and walked back to the house.
No, but I started to have that dream
that night and many nights after
where I'm looking down
and she's running back and forth
where she's supposed
to be picked up,
where the helos came
and picked us up.
She's looking for me, and I can't--
you know, I can't get there.
I wonder if we love each other
as much as they love us.
This is the strobe light.
So, when they said,
"We found your strobe--
we found the dog,"
this is what had come off.
You know, it blinks.
I thought they found her.
And then the look back
is what really--
why I really question everything.
I still think about it.
I'm still very much bothered
and tormented by my decisions.
And I don't think without
the rapport that we had,
without the relationship we had,
I don't think she would've done it.
Oh, there she goes.
And it was just clear to me that...
my daughter has a daddy
because of Pepper.
Yeah. It made sense.
Go! What does yellow mean?
-Slow down!
-"Slow down," that's right.
"You're almost there.
Stop at that tree.
Climb the ladder to... a dog party."
Look at the dogs' party with cake.
I would have put myself
in harm's way
or sacrificed anything that I would
for a human being for Pepper.
We don't fight
because we hate the bad guys.
We fight because we love
who and what we love.
And she was the same way.
# She touched the sky, sky, sky #
# And didn't come back, back, back #
# Till the 4th of July-ly... #
I have my personal
spiritual beliefs.
I think I'll see her again,
so I know one day,
we're gonna meet up.
And I just want to thank her,
and my daughter does, too.