By Sgt. Leejay Lockhart, 101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Public AffairsMay 4, 2015
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- In the second week of March, Spc. Melaney Brown, a military working dog handler, and Samu, her assigned military working dog, were driving from Fort Stewart, Georgia, back to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. After approximately seven months of training, Brown and the German shepherd had just completed the validation process. This meant they could finally go on missions and do more than just train together.
Brown, one of the dog handlers of the 510th Military Police Detachment, 716th Military Police Battalion, supported by the 101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), had been at Fort Campbell for two years and Samu was her third assigned dog. Samu was a combat veteran and had deployed three times, including twice in support of Special Operations Command.
During validation, military working dog teams have to demonstrate proficiency at all of the basic tasks, which included obedience, explosive detection, and suspect apprehension. Samu accomplished all of these tasks with his new handler, Brown.
Samu confirmed once again that military working dogs are Soldiers eager to serve and fulfill their duties on the battlefield. Working together with their handlers they help save lives and defeat the enemy.
"We had no issues, we passed with flying colors," said Brown. "I was very excited. I couldn't wait to get back on patrol."
To celebrate, Brown bought Samu a bratwurst for dinner.
"I was really happy with him," said Brown. "I gave him the love he deserved after that hard week of intensive training."
However, about a week after that triumph, something was wrong with Samu. Veterinarians diagnosed him with cancer.
"He was absolutely fine," said Brown. "The vets thought he had just strained a muscle, and then they realized his muscles were kind of deteriorating. He had no symptoms or anything like that. Two weeks later he was gone. That's how fast it progressed."
Brown had spent nearly every day for eight months with Samu. They formed a solid bond, and just after they successfully validated, he was gone. All of those months training with him were gone.
"The whole eight months -- that's what we trained for because we couldn't go out and work the road or get slotted for deployment or anything like that," said Brown. "So that's what we did everyday was work on these tasks for the test and make sure everything was perfect."
Brown said being a dog handler was like a marriage to the dog due to the amount of time they spent together. Even the regulations governing MWDs contribute to this.
"Say Friday comes along, and we haven't met our hour criteria set forth in the regulations and we work on Saturday and Sunday to make those up...or if there is an issue we can't work out in training then we're working on Saturday and Sunday as well."
It wasn't just Brown who had lost a loyal partner, the whole unit had lost a valuable member of their team. So, to honor one of their finest, the 510th MP Det. held a memorial ceremony April 22. The occasion was just as somber as any other memorial service. Like most other memorials, a photo of the fallen looking healthy and strong stood facing the crowd. Juxtaposed beside the photo was military equipment that Samu would never use again.
Brown spoke at the ceremony and described Samu as rambunctious, friendly and loyal.
"In his final days, when he was barely able to walk, the vets that were responsible for his medical care used the term stoic." said Brown at the ceremony, praising his bravery. "He will always have a special place in all of our hearts, and I will truly, truly miss him."
Standing in formation across from Brown with other members of the 510th MP Det. was Staff Sgt. Joseph Rivera, Samu's previous dog handler. Rivera had spent 18 months with Samu including a 12-month deployment to Afghanistan in support of Special Operation Command.
"It was probably some of the worst news I ever heard," said Rivera. "He was one of the best dogs I ever had."
The military working dog team provides an unmatched capability to detect explosives and help save lives on the battlefield. Samu was a hard working Soldier and force multiplier in Afghanistan, making the Soldiers around him more effective.
"One of the most memorable days was while we were downrange during a firefight he never stopped searching," said Rivera. "He was a great dog. Explosions going off, rounds coming down at us ... and he never stopped searching. He just did his job the whole time. He never showed any fear."
For those 12 months, they were together every day and were never apart for more than 20 minutes, said Rivera. Besides his combat role, Samu also served in another invaluable role. He was a friend and companion.
"A lot of Soldiers, as a way to kind of decompress after missions, especially when we lost battle buddies ... he would come out and play with them," said Rivera. "He had this ball that he always carried around. He loved it." Rivera laughed as he shared the memory of his friend.
Samu, like other military working dogs, trained constantly. As part of the Army, he worked hard and always did his duty. He showed courage under fire and brought a set of skills to the fight, which helped protect his battle buddies and win on the battlefield.
"He's probably one of the most loyal dogs you'll ever find," said Rivera. "He's really loyal to his handler, and he's a big morale booster -- especially for the guys downrange who don't have their families or friends out there."
Brown agreed with Rivera.
"He was great," said Brown. "He did his duty when we told him to do it, and he did it eagerly, and he did it exceptionally."