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For most people, the typical military dog is reminiscent of an intimidating German Shepherd or a ferocious Belgian Malinois – dogs you won’t want to tick off.
However, if you go to the Fairchild Air Force Base chapel, you will encounter a slightly different breed of military dog: bubbly, small, and most importantly, eager to be your friend.
“Eli is a blast; it goes down well with everyone, ”said Senior Airman Desiree Cober.
Eli, an 18-month-old Australian Cattle Dog, was one of the most unique military dogs celebrated on Wednesday, National Dog Day, at Fairchild Air Force Base for its central role in keeping the military alive.
Eli plays a different role than most military dogs, but one that’s just as important in keeping the troops healthy and safe. As the official morale dog, he helps Cober listen to and advise airmen who may be struggling with their mental health.
Given the rigors of military life and the many troops far from home, Cober said grassroots mental health can be a common problem. The increased isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more of a problem over the past year.
Eli’s cheerful attitude and ability to be petted can provide instant relief and help the troops feel more comfortable, open to what is bothering them.
“It’s ridiculously difficult,” Cober said of the troops that were away from home and family. “Having something as simple as a dog can be of great help in starting a conversation.”
Cober said she got the idea from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, but said Fairchild is one of the few military bases that has the luxury of a four-legged friend devoted solely to the welfare of the troops.
Although Eli tried to steal the show, the more traditional military dogs got their time in the spotlight as well.
Fanni, a German Shepherd, demonstrated his ability to attack potentially dangerous targets during patrol stops.
Fanni was quick to chase and bit Staff Sergeant Christopher Maldonado, who was wearing a bite suit, several times after Maldonado was identified as a potential threat during a demonstration.
But more impressive than his powerful bite was Fanni’s ability to obey orders quickly. At one point, Fanni broke away from his target in midair while jumping on Maldonado, right after his handler recalled him.
Showing great discipline and controlled aggression could help Fanni and the other five traditional military dogs at the base have illustrious careers similar to the previous dogs that emerged from Fairchild.
Rosso, a Fairchild veteran who recently retired at the ripe old of 11, accomplished several incredible feats, including completing ten missions with US intelligence, protecting an incumbent US president in Japan, and serving in a Middle East mission against ISIS.
Fanni, Eli, and the other military dogs will continue their training and work to become a hero just like Rosso.
“We expect them to save lives,” said Sgt. Raymond Dwoznik, kennel master at the base.