November 2010.

Deployed to Afghanistan, I’m attending a senior leadership meeting of the combat flying units on base. The news broke suddenly and was not good; a U.S. military working dog at a remote outpost is suffering from a life threatening sickness (non-combat related) and needs an immediate aero medical evacuation. Unfortunately, between this dying K9’s combat outpost (COP) and a suitable medical facility was bad guy territory. In fact, a lot of Taliban bad guys.

Top commanders made their call quickly and without hesitation. The orders and game plan filtered down the chain of command via the fastest means possible–secure voice phone: “Get the dog!” Immediately, the extraction of that military working dog became the #1 priority in all of Afghanistan.

Combat medics rushed to their HH-60G Pave Hawk helos. The overall “air package” to provide top-cover to the PEDRO combat search and rescue helicopters as they transitioned into and out of occupied Taliban valleys began to come together–just like it always does. Support aircraft already airborne were quickly brought up to speed on this new mission and began heading in the direction of the unfolding operation. The hoops that were being jumped through by aircrews, Intel officers, planners and ground support to save this dog happen every day. Or, as in this case, every night.

A special Air Force C-17 transport plane, loaded with medical personnel and equipment, was diverted from its routine flight down range to a nearby U.S. base instead. It would wait on the taxiway with engines running to transport the sick dog to the best veterinary hospital in Afghanistan.

The combat aero medical evacuation went flawless. Army Apache helicopters never fired a shot in defense of their Pave Hawk brothers picking up the K9. A-10, F-15s and drones watched the operation unfold below, ready to make sure any fight with the enemy would not be a fair one.

Once at the heavily populated U.S. base, the dog was quickly transported to the Air Force C-17, which was given an immediate takeoff clearance and direct flight path to the awaiting veterinary doctors–located far on the other side of the Afghanistan, a country the size of Texas.

Despite everyone’s best efforts the military dog succumbed to his illness and died early the next morning. I’ll never forget the people and military assets that were moved that night to support this critical mission for a battlefield hero. The same devotion and dedication that this K9 gave to protecting our lives, he deserved in return. Many times I’ve thought about that night’s combat aero medical evacuation and the moving parts that needed to take place; every time I’m left knowing that the exact same process would have been executed had it been a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. And that’s a good feeling.