He endured the trauma of war with man’s best friend. Now a young veteran is hoping a reunion with his canine comrade will finally bring him peace of mind.
For seven harrowing months in 2011, Lance Corporal David Pond and his military working dog, Pablo, canvassed the roads of Afghanistan, nosing out hidden bombs that could take out a platoon. They survived scores of combat patrols and more than 30 firefights.
“He was my rock, my foundation,” Pond, 27, said of the Belgian malinois who became his best friend and protector.
“He saved my life more than once.”
Their bond seemed unbreakable, but when they were split up when Pond’s service ended in 2011. The Marine went home to Colorado, and the dog moved on to stateside assignments.
Back on U.S. soil, Pond faced a new battle: post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. And his troubles sparked a quest — to bring Pablo home.
It was a harder and longer journey than he expected. There were letters to politicians, an online petition and some red tape to cut through, but this week it finally happened.
At a Marine base in Albany, Georgia, Pablo was released from service and into the arms of an overjoyed Pond.
“I cheered,” Pond said.
“It brings a big portion of closure to my life. He’s mine.”
There are 1,800 highly trained dogs on duty for the Defense Department at any given time, officials say. About 300 of them are adopted out each year — often to former handlers like Pond.
Pond says he was a “rebellious teenager” in the suburbs of Denver when a buddy dragged him into a Marine recruiting office. He signed up, was shipped off to Camp Pendleton for training and was eventually plucked out to be a K-9 handler.
His first deployment was to Iraq in 2009 with a female German shepherd named Zora. It was a relatively quiet stint, but Zora was later killed in combat.
When Pond came back to Camp Lejeune, he asked for another dog to train with so he could expand his skill set — and he was given Pablo.
“It was love at first sight,” Pond said.
“He was very goofy, very stubborn, very hardheaded. It seemed like every day he would test me.”
The biggest tests were yet to come.
In December 2010, Pond and Pablo were shipped to Afghanistan. They rotated through four different units, keeping mostly to themselves when they weren’t out on patrol.
Read more: NBC News