By Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public AffairsFebruary 15, 2019
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Soldiers from the 91st Military Police Battalion welcomed home two of their own when Spc. Alec Alcoser and his military working dog Alex were met with cheers and applause Feb. 12 at Fort Drum.
Alcoser and Alex were assigned to 8th Military Police Detachment, 91st MP Battalion, 16th MP Brigade, when they deployed to Afghanistan and were severely injured in a suicide bombing last August during a foot patrol outside Bagram Airfield.
"I didn't think I was that hurt," Alcoser said. "I mean I could still shoot back, and I did what I could, but I also knew I couldn't get on my feet."
Alcoser said that he was more worried about Alex than himself.
"I mean, I think I'm a pretty tough dude and I knew I was going to be fine," he said. "I was just worried about Alex. I saw that he was bleeding pretty badly."
Alcoser took the medical gauze from his pouch and applied aid to Alex. Then, while Alcoser was being treated, Alex remained by his side.
The pair had to separate when Alcoser was medically evacuated and sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The military dog handler suffered a mild traumatic brain injury, shrapnel wounds and broken bones, while Alex's injury required a rear leg amputation.
Alcoser, originally from San Antonio, Texas, has undergone most of his rehabilitation nearby at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. Before that, he was treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, where he reunited with Alex.
"It was super emotional," Alcoser said. "I actually had to ask everybody to leave the room because of how much I was crying. I don't think I was quite prepared to see him with three legs that soon, so it was definitely emotional for me."
Their recovery together made headline news, which somewhat stunned Alcoser.
"We never really hear about Soldiers getting injured overseas anymore, so when this got big it really shocked me," Alcoser said. "It was really cool to see how much people really cared, though."
Alcoser said that having Alex by his side once again motivated him during rehabilitation.
"That made me want to get back on my feet and get back to normal day life again," he said. "I wasn't supposed to be walking even now. It was going to be eight months before I was even going to be standing up again, and I'm already walking, even jogging a little bit."
Alcoser said that when he was cleared to apply weight bearing on his legs, he would practice walking alone in his room.
"That's because I was extremely motivated to get back to my dog," he said. "I did not want eight months to go by and still not have a projected time for when I could be with him again."
As successful as Alcoser's recovery has been, he said that Alex is even more impressive.
"He gets around and runs and everything," he said. "He's still the same old dog."
Alcoser said that Alex continues to behave like a bomb-sniffing dog.
"I guarantee you if I took him outside for training right now, he'd still find bombs. He loves it. He is super loyal to this job."
It's a job that Alex doesn't get to perform with the Army anymore since being medically retired. That allowed Alcoser to adopt his battle buddy.
"At first we thought his leg wasn't going to be amputated, so the plan would have been for him to return to Fort Drum after his recovery," he said. "I mean, it was a double-edge sword in a way. He lost his leg, but then that meant I got to keep him."
Alcoser first met Alex when he reported to Fort Drum, fresh out of advanced individual training. Alex was the more experienced of the pair, and had previously deployed with his former handler.
"How Alex worked with his past handler isn't necessarily how he is going to work with me, so it takes some time to create a bond. I think with me and Alex that happened really quickly," Alcoser said. "The dog kind of has a way to adjust to your personality and adjust to your vibe and then goes off of that."
Alex absorbed his handler's easygoing traits.
"Yeah, Alex was a lot more energetic with his last handler, but then became more laidback like me," Alcoser said. "When it's time to work we get the work done, but when there's off time, why not kick up our feet and watch a movie?"
Alex described the eight-year-old German shepherd as a friendly and people-loving dog. On his vest, Alex wears the Purple Paw - the MWD equivalent of the Purple Heart - and some of Alcoser's service medals.
"I got those awards serving with Alex, so he deserves them just as much as I do," he said.
Alcoser will spend a couple of weeks at Fort Drum until he returns to San Antonio for one more surgery and further rehabilitation.
"After that, all my surgeries are done, and I'm strong as a bull," he said.
Alcoser is exploring his options, and he said that he would like to return to a U.S. Army Forces Command K-9 unit and deploy again.
"I have been given the opportunity to medically retire, but I don't think it's my time yet to leave the K-9," he said. "I think I still have a lot to bring to the table, and I don't think my time is done."
Alcoser said that while he is at Fort Drum, he will reconnect with the Soldiers he deployed with and spend time at the kennels meeting those who joined the unit while he has been away.
"The team here is really good, and Fort Drum has one of the best kennels in K-9," he said. "Honestly, I love the team here and I would definitely come back here if I can."
Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Smith, 91st MP Battalion senior enlisted adviser, said that Alcoser and Alex were never far from the minds of everyone in the battalion.
"When this young man was wounded, it triggered things across this formation that I don't think people realize," Smith said. "Really, when you hear that one of yours has been injured in battle, we all are affected."
Smith said that seeing Alcoser stand in front of the formation during his "Welcome Home" ceremony was a proud moment.
"I remember walking into his hospital room, and I see Alcoser laying there - a very different version of the young man you see in front of you right now - with a lot of visible injuries," Smith said. "It kind of struck me right in my chest, it really did."
Smith said that he stood by Alcoser's bedside for about 10 minutes, and he was unable to say anything. Luckily, he said, Lt. Col. Scott Blanchard filled the silence for him as the battalion commander chatted with Alcoser.
Smith finally told Alcoser that he wanted to give the specialist a hug but there wasn't an unbandaged place on his body he could wrap an arm around. Smith informed him that people from XVIII Airborne Corps all the way down to platoon level were asking about Alcoser and wanted updates on his recovery.
"You don't have to work with someone eight hours a day, or be in someone's squad, someone's platoon or someone's company to have others care about you," he said. "Just by being an American Soldier with that U.S. Army on your chest, and more people than you know will rally to your cause. People are proud of you, people care about you, and we are excited to have you home."