By Scott Huddleston
Military bomb-sniffing dog, Diego, an 8-year-old Yellow Labrador Retriever, reunites with Logan Black at Lackland Air Force Base, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012. Black, a former Army sergeant, was Diego’s handler for two years prior to leaving the army in 2007. In 2006, they were deployed to Iraq where they were shaken up by an IED blast. Black was able to adopt the lab through the military adoption program. Photo: Jerry Lara, San Antonio Express-News / © 2012 San Antonio Express-News
After five years of separation, an Iraq veteran was reunited Tuesday with his old war buddy, a mature but loveable yellow Labrador retriever that has been rewarded with a life of leisure for doing two combat tours.
Diego, a bomb-sniffing dog that recently had been used as a training aid for new military dog handlers at Lackland AFB, has been retired from duty and adopted by his former handler, Logan Black.
“I feel awesome. For a long time, I thought this was never going to happen,” said Black, who was with Diego for a yearlong deployment in 2006 when both were shaken by a roadside bomb blast in Fallujah.
For the first few minutes of their reunion, Diego sniffed around, in his characteristic search mode, as Black held his leash, before he acknowledged his former handler. He began frolicking, wagging his tail and licking Black in the face.
“There was a lot of joy,” Black said. “After a 13-hour drive home, he’ll probably remember everything.”
Black, 34, said he now is studying acting at home in Kansas City, Mo., and has been diagnosed by the Department of Veterans Affairs with post-traumatic stress disorder. After Black left the Army in 2007, Diego served a second tour, but was removed from combat duty because of sensitivity to loud noises.
By the time Black began a quest this summer to find his old companion in hopes of adopting him, Diego, now 8 years old, was being evaluated for retirement. After he created a Facebook page titled “Bring Diego Home” in June, Black got the attention of the media and the support of hundreds of strangers from as far as Brazil and New Zealand. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lobbied the Air Force to retire “a loyal dog who saved lives.”
Of the roughly 400 dogs retired each year by the Department of Defense, about half are adopted at Lackland, home of the world’s largest program for military working dogs.
“I like to think every adoption is a happy ending, but it’s good to see a dog returned to its handler,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Null, who runs the adoption program for the 341st Training Squadron.
While younger than some dogs that retire at age 10 or 11, Diego was not in as high demand for service as “dual purpose” dogs with attack capability, officials said. Null said Diego has a gentle demeanor that made him suitable for new handlers.
Black said he’ll give Diego a life of “pure luxury,” with a soft bed, plush toys and plenty of long walks and belly rubs. He said he has a warrior bond with the dog that differs from the normal attachment between a pet and owner.
“With Diego, that bond is there,” Black said. “Your life depends on him, and his life depends on you.”
Also adopted Tuesday at Lackland were two Belgian Malinoises. One will be used by the San Antonio Police Department as a cadaver and search-and-rescue dog. The other, a mature puppy, went home with its former foster family after failing to meet standards for military duty.
Lackland is in urgent need of South Texans to foster pups for military duty for a few months at a time. For more information, contact the base at 210-671-3686 or 341TRSPP@us.af.mil.