Statue honors dogs in war

ajames@newsobserver.comJuly 27, 2013 

— Dogs are man’s best friend – especially in a combat zone.

On Saturday, 58 canines killed while fighting alongside their partners were commemorated with a statue unveiled outside the Special Operations Forces Museum in Fayetteville.

“These dogs are taking a bullet, flushing an enemy, and running down a terrorist, all for the simple pleasures of playing with a tennis ball at the end of the day, and a cup of dried food,” said Sgt. Major Chris “Dutch” Moyer, who is a Special Operations canine-handler. He’s been assigned three dogs in his time in the Army.

Like soldiers who serve in the Special Operations Forces, the dogs are chosen carefully. Very few make the cut.

“When we go to Europe to look at dogs, we may choose five out of 100 to go through training, then one of those five will make it,” Moyer said.

He said the qualities required for a Special Operations canine can’t be trained or acquired, they are genetic.

“Gameness is what we are looking for,” Moyer said. “Gameness is having the desire to continue even when faced with extreme fear or danger.”

It’s a term used in dog-fighting. The most common breed for the dogs is a Belgian Malinois, which is what the statue is sculpted to resemble.

Finding the enemy

One of Moyer’s canine partners, Valco, was killed in action in October 2005 in Iraq. In an emotional speech, Moyer described Valco’s last valiant effort that saved his battalion.

Moyer and his troops were lined up in the dark, approaching a possible enemy location. Valco left the line and went into the weeds where the enemy was hiding.

“He caught the scent of the enemy, which was undetectable by night vision devices, and he attacked the enemy,” Moyer said.

Moyer, his eyes always on his dog, saw where Valco went, but he and his troops had to wait to see what happened first.

“It could have been a body bomber, and it was hard to wait with Valco in there, but it wasn’t safe,” Moyer said.

After no bomb went off, the troops followed Valco’s trail into the weeds, and surrounded the enemy. But Valco had been shot by an enemy sniper with an AK-47.

“He continued to fight even after being shot until he couldn’t any longer,” Moyer said.

More than fighters

Moyer said he and Valco were connected by more than their mutual assignment at war. They were inseparable, like best friends, and had been together for three years.

“We spent huge chunks of time together,” Moyer said. They started training together two years prior.

“He slept in my bunk, during downtimes we’d sit on the couch and watch whatever the TV satellite would provide.”

Laura Miller, vice president of the Special Operations Forces Canine Memorial Foundation, said SOF dogs are expected to outperform any other military dog. She also said the canines are more than just protectors, though.

“Each of those dogs are individuals with personalities and quirks,” Miller said.

Harrison Burkhart, of Fayetteville, raised the $5,032 to build the statue for his Eagle Scout project. He and his troop helped construct the concrete walkway leading up to it. Artist Lena Toritch designed the statue.

Fifty-eight plaques with the names of each dog killed surround it.

James: 919-553-7234

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