Fort Campbell uses dogs to boost morale, save lives - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

Fort Campbell uses dogs to boost morale, save lives

FORT CAMPBELL, KY (WSMV) -

They may be the best friend who greets you at the door each day, but for Fort Campbell, dogs have a long history of carrying out the important duties of boosting morale and saving lives.

In World War II during the Battle of the Bulge, the 101st Airborne Division stepped in to protect the city of Bastogne, Belgium from German attacks. As a symbol of their gratitude, the people of the city presented a bulldog to the 101st to be named Bastogne. A tradition that continues to this day, with the passing of each Bastogne, the Belgian city gives another bulldog to Fort Campbell to serve as a mascot, an enduring symbol of strength and loyalty.

Through the years since, Pfc. Zachary Pilarcik said a dog's bond to a soldier has evolved to that of friend and protector.

"He's Tommy, he's an 8-year-old German shepherd," said Pilarcik, motioning to the dog at his side. "He's a patrol explosives detector dog."

On a training day on post, sergeants hid C-4 and nitro dynamite in a large warehouse of hundreds of hiding places a full 30 minutes before Pilarcik and Tommy were brought in.

"Basically, he'll work on his own," said Pilarcik. "I've got to come in and kinda detail the area which means looking in productive areas where I think there could be something."

The training happens five times a week. Keeping above a 95 percent proficiency is crucial. In deployments, these dogs and their handlers check the roads ahead for IEDs.

"It's invaluable," said Pilarcik. "When you find that ID, it's literally saving American lives, which I think is absolutely awesome."

The timer hit seven minutes and Tommy found the C-4 on a shelf. Five minutes later, he found the nitro dynamite among some plastic wrapped boxes.

Rewarded with a toy and some rough-housing, it was another in a long history of proud moments in the military dog program on post.

During the Vietnam War, Fort Campbell placed a dog platoon with every brigade that would go ahead of soldiers detecting booby traps and tracking blood trails to find injured soldiers.

According to Sgt. Pamela Collen, her companion, Astra, has retired from being a military dog to a life of couch cushions and tennis balls.

"She was assigned to me in May 2007," said Collen. "We graduated school in July, and she's been with me ever since."

Collen said she never knew the depth of her bond with Astra until a night in June of 2011, when Loyalty Forward Operating Base in Iraq was hit in a rocket attack.

"The first one blew open our door and light fixtures fell," said Collen. "It was a very traumatic experience. Astra and I had just been lying in bed asleep. We both sit up and just look at each other. I scooped her up and ran out the door."

Dealing with the shock of the attack, Collen said it was working with Astra that kept her going.

"I can't count how many times she saved my life," said Collen.

Whether they serve as a symbol, a guide, or a protector, Collen said there's just no greater feeling than being with a companion who wants nothing more than to be close to their soldier.

"You do have to have some sort of bond," said Collen. "You've got to have the respect of each other and just the overall caring of each other. You can't even describe it. She's just awesome."

Copyright 2014 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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