FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Many military retirees call the Fort Leonard Wood community home, but out of all of them, one former service member here would probably have some of the most incredible stories to tell — if only he could tell his stories.
Throughout his career with the Military Police Corps, he protected presidents and other dignitaries in the Washington, D.C. area, and helped catch felons trying to access military installations with firearms. He went on more than 80 missions in support of the Secret Service, and at last count, more than 200,000 people can say they were safer because of his actions.
He’s old and toothless, and naps a lot these days, but he still enjoys gumming his chew toys — a duck being his favorite at the moment.
He’s also probably harrier than most retirees walking around Fort Leonard Wood, and for good reason. He’s a German Shepherd named Eros, who retired last year after a seven-year career as an explosives-detection trained military working dog.
He’s now in the running for a K-9 Hero Award, which recognizes seven of the nation’s top-performing police and military K-9 heroes during a televised ceremony in November in Washington.
An Army Reserve Soldier with the 102nd Training Division, Sgt. Paige Lewis, who also works as a civilian administrative support specialist at the Urban Search and Rescue Department here, adopted Eros in May 2020. She put him in for one of the awards after reading about them online.
“(The K-9 Hero Awards) help educate the public on what these dogs do for our country, what their needs are in retirement and why we should all be responsible for making sure they have a good retirement,” Lewis said.
Eros started his career while still a puppy in 2013, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where the Air Force’s 341st Training Squadron provides training to MWDs used in patrol, drug and explosives detection missions for the Department of Defense and other government agencies. After his training, Eros was stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and his proximity to the U.S. capital meant plenty of opportunities to provide security support for some of the country’s most senior leaders.
While at Fort Belvoir, Eros came to the attention of Lewis, who was at the time an active-duty MP stationed in Washington with the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment — traditionally known as “The Old Guard.” She often worked alongside K-9 units and came to know Eros and his handler at the time when they participated in an Association of the U.S. Army, or AUSA, event.
“I actually was chosen to speak at AUSA, and they showcased the different jobs in the Army,” she said. “We always get to say we’re Soldiers, but there are so many jobs we do.”
Lewis, who grew up in the desert town of Needles, California, calls herself a life-long animal lover.
“When my Army recruiter told me I could be an MP, my first question was, ‘Can I be with a dog? Can I get K-9?’” she said.
The 31K MWD handler military occupational specialty was unavailable at the time, but Lewis said she did luck out with getting to adopt Eros.
“A lot of times, when the dogs are retired, they’re adopted out to their handlers,” she said.
Lewis said the adoption process took about seven months, and the final decision went to Eros’ kennel master.
“I think it was me showing up often — I would go to the kennels — and I would show that I wanted him,” she said. “I showed that I was going to take care of him, and I think that helped me to be able to adopt him.”
One of Eros’ former handlers, Staff Sgt. Joshua Stiles, said he remembers Eros having a unique talent that makes him “very family friendly.”
“Eros is a great dog,” said Stiles, who is now with the 95th Military Working Dog Detachment at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. “He’s one of those dogs that has a really good on and off switch — when it was time to work, he knew it was time to work, but he also knew when it was time to just go out there and be a dog and play.”
After the adoption, Lewis said she was told not to get her hopes up — that retired MWDs usually don’t live very long — but she wants to ensure the time Eros has left in his retirement is the best she can make it.
“They usually live about a year to a year and a half after they get adopted,” she said. “It was my goal to make sure that he lived longer.”
If Eros is to win a K-9 Hero Award, one of the perks will be that his health care needs, including medications, will be paid for the rest of his life — his food and funeral expenses are also covered.
Lewis said that although she has the finances to cover his health care, some of the issues that come up in older dogs do get expensive and could put others off adopting.
“Police K-9s and MWDs perform an important role in the safety of our nation,” she said. “I want to ensure Eros has the retirement he earned through his service to the country and I hope one day military working dogs will receive veteran benefits much like their human counterparts.”