AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy - The wind blows past her ears as she
sprints across a field to chase down her target. Tora sets off to
tackle any obstacle her handler has put her up against. Words can't
completely describe the bond the two have for one another.
The bond between Tora, 31st Security Forces Squadron explosives and
patrol military working dog, and Tech. Sgt. Gabriel Travers, 31st
SFS MWD handler, started with a test of strength. It was measured
against real-life scenarios from deployments and continues on
through the luxuries of home life with a new family.
U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Gabriel Travers, 31st Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler and Tora, explosives and patrol MWD, finish playing outside in the training grounds, June 23, 2015, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Tora recently retired and was adopted by her handler's family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cary Smith)
“I look at her not only as a dog, but as a person who
saved my husband's life,” said Megan Travers. “I respect and
love Tora, because I know what they've been through.”
The experiences started five years ago when Travers was
recommended for training as a handler. His superiors noticed
something that set him apart from other defenders.
“My chief told me my personality would be great to serve as
a handler,” said Travers. “I think he saw that I take
charge, but am also a compassionate and caring individual.”
Compassion and leadership are essential when
training MWDs, said Travers.
“It takes dedication
for the handler to know when to have a firm hand with their
dog,” said Tech. Sgt. Keaton Mickle, 31st SFS MWD trainer.
“There is a time and place to play, and one to be dedicated
to the mission. Travers has a good understanding of that
Travers returned from K9 School and was
paired with his first dog, Fuels. Fuels excelled in sniffing
out smuggled narcotics, but he lacked the aggressive
temperament to apprehend people during an arrest.
Seven months later Travers moved to Aviano Air Base, Italy,
and to a new dog. Tora was the polar opposite, aggressive in
all regards, even with something as simple as eating food.
Tora challenged Travers, and the two built a relationship
that looked more like family than a working partnership.
“You grow to love your dog because of the amount of time
and effort spent with them,” said Travers. “Then there are
times when the dog is telling you ‘No, I'm not going to do
it today,' and they frustrate you to no end.”
Countless hours of training and reading behavior books
helped Travers shape Tora's behavior so she could
effectively search for explosive devices and engage with
Throughout training, their trust and
respect evolved for one another as commands slowly became
requests during real life scenarios.
“I tell a dog to
do something when I'm training them,” said Travers. “After
they understand what I want them to do, I shift to the ask
mentality so we can accomplish our task together.”
The duo deployed to the deserts of Afghanistan in 2012,
where tasks they needed to accomplish would push their bond
of love and trust to the limits.
dogs and their handlers are assigned to ground units on the
front line, where they search for explosives in an effort to
save lives of the service members behind them.
was a time when we were in too many fire fights and she
didn't want to work anymore, she was mentally done after
being so close to explosions,” said Travers. “All I could do
was to try and ask her to put her life on the line for me
and let her know I'd protect her.”
often ask himself, “How can I ask her to do it again?” or
“How can I expect her to do anything else?” There was no
option for them to leave that environment and be replaced by
a less-experienced team; he would rather stick it out and
fix their problems, he said.
“If you're scared to
walk outside the wire, the dog can sense that and they're
not going to work efficiently,” said Travers. “At the end of
the day in those environments, we loved each other and
survived through it together.”
Those difficult times
remind Travers of how strong of a bond they have. The dog
handler is dependent on the keen senses of a canine and the
canine is dependent on the loving protection of the dog
The pair returned from the Afghanistan
deserts to ripe vineyards surrounding Aviano, eager to
continue their training with walks around the flightline
perimeter. The next three years were spent re-certifying and
keeping both Tora's and Travers' senses alert until the
final day of duty would come.
Tora, now 11, enjoys
her plush pillow bed in the kennels. Newly retired, she can
now accept petting and treats from strangers.
knows something is about to happen because we haven't worked
together since early June,” said Travers. “I want my family
there with me to bring her home from the kennels because she
is more than a dog, she is like my child.”
have plenty of time to adjust to the active Travers' family
lifestyle with two young boys and a wife that likes to run.
“One thing I have to remember, is even though she's
a retired working dog she needs to be active,” said Travers.
“But I'm envisioning plenty of cuddle time too because she
needs and thrives on love and affection.”
their work together is done, Travers and Tora will forever
have a bond that is inseparable, made stronger by hardships
they faced. Looking back on their time together, Travers
said the “Guardians of the Night” poem is a perfect
representation of his MWD experiences.
“Trust in me
my friend for I am your comrade. I will protect you with my
last breath when all others have left you and the loneliness
of the night closes in. I will be at your side...
we should meet again on another street I will gladly take up
your fight. I am a Police Working Dog and together we are
guardians of the night.”
By U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Cary Smith
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