By Spc. Elisebet Freeburg, Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan, PAOOctober 30, 2009
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- U.S. and coalition servicemembers, civilians, military working dog handlers and their dogs met together in a ceremony Oct. 16, to unveil the war dog memorial built at the KAF boardwalk in honor of military working dogs killed here in the line of duty.
Maj. Donna DeBonis, the 993rd Medical Detachment officer in charge of the veterinary treatment facility, planned the memorial while working with the War Dog Support Group, a program designed for handlers who have lost a dog.
"The dogs are completely dependent upon the handler," said DeBonis. "They are like children. In turn, they obviously protect the handler."
While counseling the group, Capt. Dmitri V. Kostyunin, 143d Expeditionary Sustainment Command chaplain, emphasized the importance of doing something positive to cope with a loss, so the handlers agreed on the memorial.
After the death of a dog, many handlers experience not only grief for their loss but guilt for putting their dog in harm's way, said DeBonis.
"The dogs look for [improvised explosive devices], mines and weapons caches, so they typically go on patrols to assist in that capacity," said DeBonis.
DeBonis designed the memorial based on the fallen warrior memorial adjacent to the site, after receiving site permission and memorial dimensions from Commander, Kandahar Airfield (COMKAF), the NATO-organized base commander.
Employees of the U.S. Army Medical Department Museum in San Antonio, Texas, donated the bas-relief depicting a dog handler and dog with the American flag waving above their heads.
"People volunteered for no other reason than they wanted to help on behalf of the working dogs," said DeBonis.
Civilian volunteers from the Canadian Forces Contractor Augmentation Program poured and mixed concrete for the slab as well as constructing and adding an acrylic case after the ceremony to enable the bas-relief to withstand the environmental elements.
"It's something tangible that [volunteers have] worked on, and when they leave, they leave something positive behind," said DeBonis.
Capt. William Kneemiller, 649th Regional Support Group chaplain, Col. Stanley Puckett, Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan chaplain, and DeBonis all spoke at the dedication ceremony.
Dangers the dogs face are primarily from explosions, snipers and enemy fire in gun battles. Handlers claim insurgents place a bounty on the heads of handlers and their dogs, said DeBonis.