MWD Blek earns state kudos for Afghanistan service

by Christopher Kratzer
Air University Public Affairs

11/18/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Retired military working dog Blek and his handler, Staff Sgt. Brent Olsen of 42nd Security Forces Squadron have been through a lot together. While in Afghanistan in 2010, the pair was injured after a Soldier stepped on a pressure plate, setting off a series of five mortar rounds. More than a year later, Olsen and Blek celebrated Blek's induction into the Alabama Animal Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Birmingham Nov. 6.

The Alabama Animal Hall of Fame is a committee of the Alabama Veterinary Medical Foundation recognizing animals demonstrating extraordinary loyalty, courage, service or intuitive abilities in its relations with humans. According to Olsen, no one fits that description better than Blek.

"He's being inducted for what we did as a team in Afghanistan. We found (improvised explosive devices.) He's an incredible dog," Olsen said.

After returning from Afghanistan and several months of surgeries and physical therapy, Olsen and Blek were reunited. Because of the injuries Blek sustained, he was no longer allowed to work, but that didn't stop the reunion, as Olsen adopted the dog who'd been his constant companion in Afghanistan.

"He's my best friend," he said. "I don't go anywhere without him now, and I feel bad when I leave him. He's definitely part of my family. He's done good things, saved peoples' lives."

Olsen said he was glad to see a military working dog being honored for his bravery and hoped it would shed some light on the unique part dogs have played in wars throughout history.

"They've done great things," he said. "Dogs have been used in wars for centuries. The Romans used to put spikes on them and run them through the crowds of soldiers. In Vietnam dogs saved countless lives by sniffing out snipers and countless other tasks.

"Beyond that, they love unconditionally," Olsen said. "Blek will bend over backwards for me. I love my job, and he loves working. Some people don't understand how truly great dogs are."

Olsen expressed thanks to Dr. Jennifer English, a Montgomery veterinarian, for her support, training and the letter that helped seal a nomination for Blek in the hall of fame.

"She (Dr. English) helps us with IVs and walks us through all kinds of scenarios we might encounter. She goes out of her way to help us, and she really doesn't have to do that," Olsen said.

The training they receive is critical out in the field, he said.

"You have to know your dog in and out. You have to know exactly how your dog is going to react to everything you encounter. You have to be prepared for anything. You may not be able to perform a surgery right there, but you can do things to prolong that dog's life until you can get to a surgeon," he said. "This first aid could potentially allow us to save these dogs' lives. Why wouldn't you want to learn that?"

English volunteers to work with the dog handlers at her clinic. Once a month she reviews putting in IVs, penetrating chest wound procedures, any other procedures the handlers would need to do in the field to stabilize their dog should something happen. She is also an emergency veterinarian for the 42nd Security Forces Squadron.

Her work with the military working dogs is a way for her to express her appreciation, she said.

"I love these guys. I think what they do for our country is great. Nobody in my family is in the military, so I feel that this is my little part that I can do to help those who are willing to go across the world to defend my freedom and my family's freedom," English said.

After learning about Olsen and Blek's incredible story, English was happy to recommend them for the award.

"I think it's wonderful he's being inducted. In my letter of nomination, I said, 'some of the criteria to win this award are extraordinary loyalty, extraordinary courage and something that really exemplifies the human-animal bond.'

According to English, when Blek first came back to the U.S. without Olsen, he had pretty severe separation anxiety. However, since being reunited with Olsen, he's been a happier dog.

"In my opinion, a dog that is willing to take that kind of hit for his country and for his handler, and not be himself until they are reunited is incredible," he said.