- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
The Marine Corps Times announced this week that three Marines and a sailor are to receive commendation for their service during combat operations in Afghanistan. All four men are being recognized for the heroics they displayed while attached to the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion. The Marine being awarded the Navy Cross, the second highest military decoration for valor, is handler Sgt. William Sutra. Also reportedly on that mission was Sutra’s explosives detection dog, Posha.
The operation that began on July 10, 2010 quickly went awry when the team was ambushed and caught in the open. They were then pinned down by "heavy machine gun and small arms fire from multiple directions." The mission lasted two days, during which time the team’s "element leader was killed by a makeshift bomb blast on the second day … the survivors repeatedly braved enemy fire to retrieve him" and continued to hold their ground until the rest of the team could be evacuated from the area.
According to a spokesman quoted in a MARSOC press release about the medal recipients: "Members of the team unhesitatingly took charge, and with complete disregard for their own lives, moved across open terrain to reach their commandos’ position orienting their fires on the enemy."
I haven’t seen mention of whether or not the dog played a vital role during that two-day mission. But like Sutra said while the canine team was deployed together in Iraq in 2009, "[Posha] might not know it, but his job here is to save my life and the lives of others."
That tour in Iraq was the first for Sutra and Posha as an explosives detection team. Together they carried out a variety of missions-reconnaissance operations in Al Qadasiyah, patroling in Diwaniyah, meeting with a local sheik in Afak. While they were stationed in Iraq, Posha and Sutra, who hails from Worcester, Massachusetts, were featured in an article, about handlers and their dogs. Of his partner, Sutra had this to say:
Me and Posha, I feel like we’re the same. I’ve worked with four dogs. Posha’s been a rough dog to other [dog handlers] in the past, but I got the opportunity to pick him up after my last deployment, and we click like I think nobody else has. We fit well together."
The awards ceremony is scheduled for Monday where the secretary of the Navy will present the awards at Camp Pendleton in California.
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Atria Books in September 2013.