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Army specialist reunited with his war dog

Apr. 10, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Military working dog, Ellen, and her handler, Spc. Joshua Tucker.
Military working dog, Ellen, and her handler, Spc. Joshua Tucker. (Courtesy of Sherie Tucker)
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Military working dog Ellen, and her handler, Spc. Joshua Tucker. (Courtesy of Sherie Tucker)
Spc. Joshua Tucker with his wife, Sherie, were reunited with Ellen on March 29. (Courtesy of Sherie Tucker)

A military working dog named Ellen has come home to her soldier after they deployed together but then spent years apart.

It was a feat that took determination and effort by people in the Army, Air Force and Congress, and friends across two continents.

“They gave me my life back,” said Joshua Tucker, a K-9 MP who was medically retired after his last deployment to Afghanistan in 2010-2011.

He and his specialized service dog Ellen, a black lab, were joyfully reunited in late March after a long wait.

Tucker met Ellen in 2009 when they teamed up at the canine schoolhouse at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. They deployed together from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., the next year.

During that deployment, Tucker was “banged up quite a bit,” said his wife, Sherie Tucker. After he came home in 2011, he was hospitalized for three months and dealt with post-traumatic stress. As he recovered, his unit told him Ellen was waiting for him and he should focus on getting better, Sherie Tucker told Army Times on Wednesday.

But the day before he was released from the hospital, the unit called to say Ellen had been sent back to Lackland and Tucker wouldn’t get her back, Sherie Tucker said. He was depressed and angry, and felt he had failed his dog, she said. He felt Ellen wouldn’t understand.

“We had no idea he would never see her again,” she said. “They never let him say goodbye. ... I lost the man that my husband was.”

The Tuckers began the fight to get Ellen back. Sherie Tucker called Staff Sgt. Kevin Cameron at JBLM’s kennel and asked how to find a military working dog. He called Lackland, and soon the Tuckers got a call from an Air Force major at Lackland’s military working dog school, who said the search was on.

Ellen was located in Ansbach, Germany. Sherie Tucker had a friend there and called her to ask if she knew of Ellen. The friend soon called back and said, “I have eyes on the dog.”

Sherie Tucker said the Air Force major told her of a regulation that allows combat-wounded soldiers to adopt the dogs they served with. Joshua Tucker’s doctor at Fort Myer, Va., provided a letter, and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema sent a request to the Army that Ellen be retired and returned.

The Army declined the request.

Sinema tried again, submitting a second request to the Army.

The Tuckers waited anxiously, with Sherie posting updates to a Facebook page called Bring SSD Ellen Home.

On Feb. 20, the Tuckers got a call from someone within U.S. Army Europe. “She’s yours,” they were told.

On March 29, Ellen was reunited with Joshua Tucker. A video of the reunion shows a streak of black dog hurtling toward a tall man who kneels to greet her with open arms.

“There is no mistaking, she remembered,” Sherie Tucker said later. She saw the transformation in her husband. “I watched his eyes change back. ... The change is night and day.”

Ellen has been through training to be Joshua’s service dog as he continues to deal with PTSD. He says other soldiers can benefit from a canine companion.

Cameron, now out of the Army, has seen the same need and started a nonprofit to train service dogs for veterans.

“Vets with PTSD or any disability could benefit from a service dog,” Tucker said. “A lot of veterans would benefit. If used to the full extent, you would see a lot less suicides.”

The Tuckers are grateful to all who helped bring Ellen back, which took the dedication of service members helping each other, Sherie Tucker said.

“They gave a soldier his life back,” she said.

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