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by Todd Millicke
The U.S. Army has used dogs in wartime since the early 19th century. In recent years, hundreds have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, tracking militants and detecting bombs, often risking their lives.
Not all of them are drafted.
Duke was a volunteer in eastern Afghanistan. He wandered onto the army base in Konar Province like other local hounds, ducking under the metal gate, looking for food. A yellow lab, he stood out from the other dogs.
One day, Duke followed the American soldiers when they went on patrol. Though untrained, he barked when he detected Taliban fighters in the tall grass, often before the soldiers saw them. He became a regular part of the team, taking point on the patrols. A sergeant remarked that he had saved their lives many times. Duke earned the right to be tied to a post on base, which meant that someone was looking after him.
I brought Duke treats from the mess hall after lunch. Showing off his Western ways, he loved ham sandwiches, hold the bread. He would gulp them down in one bite and go for my fingers as dessert. But Duke remained a lot like Afghanistan—stoic, beautiful, hard to know. Even when happy, he only wagged his tail a few inches back and forth.
Unfortunately, Duke also barked at the Afghans who worked on base and, when he got loose, would nip at their heels. The locals eventually complained to the higher-ups. One time, they took matters into their own hands and beat Duke with a shovel. A dog-friendly medic sewed up his bleeding head.
Our friendship lasted several weeks until one day I didn’t see Duke after lunch. I walked to his usual hangout and asked a soldier where the dog was. “Duke? Oh, they shot him this morning,” he said. “Army’s getting rid of all the strays.”