War Dogs

Veterans: Diesel and Ricky
Artist: Phil Ciminell
Writer: Mike Koulermos

“THE FIRST THING THAT WENT THROUGH MY MIND, WAS SHIT. MY DOG’S GONNA GET SHOT”

It went against all his Army training. “They tell us it’s better for a dog to step on a bomb than a US soldier,” he says. Ricky like just about every other dog handler would rather take the hit himself.

Ricky and Diesel were inseparable. They showered together. They even went to the bathroom together. When Ricky ran on the treadmill, Diesel was on the one right next to him, running along.

“The few times you safeguard your dog are slim compared to what he does every time you go outside the wire,” Ricky says. “That’s your dog. The dog saves you and saves your team. You’re walking behind this dog in known IED hot spots. In a firefight, the dog doesn’t understand.”

The enemy had picked up on how important the dogs were to the Americans, how successful they were at sniffing out bombs. Bullets were coming closer.

“Diesel is always ready to go,” Ricky says. “He’d hurt himself if I didn’t stop him — he has prey drive.”

In September 2012, Ricky and about 18 other soldiers boarded a flight back to North Carolina; their deployment was over. Within moments of deplaning, they got to pat their dogs, say their goodbyes, then watch as the dogs were boarded on a truck with all their equipment, down to their shredded leashes. 

“It’s a bunch of infantry guys, and no one wants to be the first to start crying,” Daniel says. “But it didn’t take long. There wasn’t a dry eye.”

The only solace these soldiers had was the knowledge that they could apply to adopt their dogs. But more than three years later, Ricky still doesn’t have Diesel. The dog has vanished.

Ricky, is one of at least 200 military handlers whose dogs were secretly given to civilians by K2 Solutions. At least three government workers may have taken dogs for themselves. It’s a scandal that continues to this day, with hundreds of handlers still searching for their dogs —