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Two Marine Corps K-9s earn highest honor for military working dogs

Meet Sgt. Yeager and Emmie, the two improvised explosive detection dogs who earned the K-9 Medal of Courage this month for their work supporting the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yeager, a 13-year-old black lab, served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan where he participated in over 100 combat patrols and is credited with locating dozens of explosive devices. He previously was awarded the Purple Heart following an IED explosion in the Helmand province, Afghanistan in April 2012.

Yeager and his handler Marine Lance Cpl. Abraham Tarwoe were reportedly attempting to safeguard fellow Marines assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment during the explosion. But Tarwoe, who had an “unbreakable” relationship with Yeager according to American Humane, was killed in the explosion during a dismounted patrol.

Yeager survived, but encountered shrapnel wounds that took out a part of his ear. He subsequently was returned back to the U.S. for treatment and then retired from the Marine Corps.

Yeagar has since been adopted by a Marine Corps family in North Carolina, and is an ambassador for the Project K-9 Hero Foundation. He also is participating in American Humane’s Hero Dog Awards next month in Hollywood, California.

Yeager at the K-9 Medal of Courage awards on Capitol Hill. (Beth Caldwell for American Humane)
Yeager at the K-9 Medal of Courage awards on Capitol Hill. (Beth Caldwell for American Humane)

Emmie, a 12-year-old black lab, served three tours in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012 with three different handlers, and primarily worked off-leash along roadways. According to American Humane, her last handler described her as a dog who was always working.

After heading to the Pentagon in December 2012 to conduct on-leash searches of vehicles and buildings, Emmie and Eric Harris were certified as a Pentagon Police Explosive Detector Dog team in February 2013. The two would participate in searches of cars and would conduct random sweeps of parking lots, and also conducted sweeps for high ranking dignitaries.

Since retiring last year, she now works to help Harris’ autistic son. According to Harris, Emmie took on that role independently.

“I guess her old handler was right,” Harris said, according to an American Humane news release. “She never stops working.”

Emmie served three tours in Afghanistan primarily working off-leash along roadways. (American Humane)
Emmie served three tours in Afghanistan primarily working off-leash along roadways. (American Humane)

The award, the highest honor for military dogs, was presented to Yeager and Emmie during a Capitol Hill ceremony on Sept. 10. Other military service dogs who earned the award this year are:

  • Troll, a Dutch Shepherd dog who conducted 89 combat missions in a 2012 deployment to Afghanistan supporting Army and special operations units
  • Niko, a Dutch Shepherd dog who served in Afghanistan from 2012 to 2016 conducting more than 600 missions for the State Department supporting the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency

Multiple lawmakers were present for the ceremony, and praised the dogs for their service.

“By helping locate enemy positions, engage the enemy, and sniff out deadly IEDs and hidden weapons, military dogs have saved countless lives in the fight for freedom,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Republican from Florida and co-chair of the Congressional Humane Bond Caucus. I consider it a moral responsibility to support America’s veterans and military working dogs, both during their service and in retirement.”

“Military working dogs are invaluable members of their units,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas and also co-chair of the Congressional Humane Bond Caucus. “Their deeds deserve recognition, their names deserve to be heard, and their service remembered.”

Five military dogs earned the award in 2018, including Summer, who served as an explosives specialized search dog with the Marine Corps in Afghanistan, and Taker, who uncovered lethal improvised explosive devices with the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.S. military and American Humane have partnered together since World War I after American Humane was requested to deploy to help rescue war horses who were wounded overseas.

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