Staff Sgt. Jamie Decker, 18th Military Police Detachment, K9 Unit, and his Goliat, a German shepherd, returned from their deployment to Afghanistan on Nov. 10.
At 9, Goliat, also known as "Gizmo," has worked for the United States government since January 2006, training, detecting and protecting, in his role as a military working dog, or MWD.
Decker, who has served in the Army for just over nine years, has deployed twice before this latest assignment. He has worked as Gizmo's handler for one and a half years. The pair left for Afghanistan in November 2012 for their first deployment together.
"Gizmo did great during the deployment," said Decker. "At one point it was getting to 120 degrees [outside] and he couldn't work for more than 20 minutes before it was time for him to rest. But for his age and his 'fluffiness,' he did really well."
Decker and Gizmo performed numerous missions while down range, such as patrolling the bases, searching vehicles and patrolling the front line.
"We have been on missions where we were looking for caches, a possible collection of weapons belonging to the enemy," Decker explained. "We have also done route clearance for troops moving from one area to the next. We walk in front and search the roads so that the units can move safely."
In these stressful situations, MWDs can boost morale when it is least expected. Decker laughed as he reminisced of a mission with Gizmo. "We were in a Blackhawk and we got pushed to the edge where the door was open. I had Gizmo pretty close to me, and I was holding on because there were no seatbelts, but Gizmo had his head out the door, looking around, without any fear," Decker said.
Trained military working dogs are one of the most effective countermeasures against deadly weapons used by the enemy during war. MWD search and locate explosives that are placed to potentially wound or kill.
Between missions, Decker and Gizmo trained daily to maintain their detection and alerting skills. The relationship between a MWD and his handler must be a solid one, not just for those they are protecting, but for each other as well.
"You feel more safe when you are with a dog," Decker said. "I know that … since my dog is in front of me, he has already searched that area." The Soldier said he felt more secure in knowing that, since the area where Decker would be walking had already been searched, there would be less chance of an explosive being present.
Throughout their initial training, handlers are advised to avoid becoming emotionally attached to a MWD, but many would say that is easier said than done.
"I couldn't really ask for a better dog. [Gizmo] is great when he searches; he has a great mentality, and a good personality," said Decker. "He's always happy to see me, and he's very loyal."
Its not "all work and no play" for this duo. Gizmo is a non-aggressive MWD and knows how to socialize with the best. "He knows when it's time to work and when it's not," said Decker. "He's a very friendly dog."
Upon return from the recent deployment, Gizmo's future plans included retirement, but following an inspection from the veterinarian, Gizmo has been cleared to continue serving alongside Decker.
Since their return, Decker and Gizmo are settling in comfortably. "It's really nice being back," said Decker. "And Gizmo is still the happy dog that he is, wanting to chase squirrels and enjoying being outdoors."