During his five tours of duty in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq, a Royal Air Force (RAF) dog named Buster sniffed out hundreds of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), saving more than 1,000 lives in the process.
The Springer Spaniel reportedly completed more tours than any other military dog, according to the BBC. Buster was bestowed with many awards for his service, including the Dickin medal (considered the Victoria Cross for animals, it’s the U.K. military’s top award for war dogs) and the Crufts Friends for Life Award. He was the first dog to become the official lifetime mascot of the RAF police.
The 13-year-old hero, who retired in 2011, crossed the Rainbow Bridge this week at the Lincolnshire home of his longtime handler, Flight Sgt. Will Barrow.
“Buster saved my life every day we were together,” Barrow writes in his book about their partnership, “Buster: The Military Dog Who Saved a Thousand Lives.” [This is an affiliate link.] “I owe him so much that I can never repay the debt, even if we lived forever.”
The book, a No. 1 bestseller in the U.K., will be released in the U.S. this fall.
In addition to sniffing out IEDs and tracking Taliban insurgents, Buster provided emotional support to Barrow and his fellow troops.
“Many’s the time I’d find some of the soldiers on the cot beds with him, just chatting away,” Barrow writes. “They felt they could confide in him and it wouldn’t be going anywhere else.”
Buster also had a knack for enchanting the children in war-torn areas. “Like a canine Pied Piper, Buster drew in his crowd and entertained them,” Barrow writes. “Anyone looking on would have wondered how on earth a spaniel from the U.K. could do so much for the ‘hearts and minds’ operation.”
Even after he retired, Buster was still enchanting children. Just days before he died, he and Barrow handed out report cards to students at a local school, according to a statement yesterday from the Royal Air Force.
An event is being arranged by RAF police to celebrate Buster and other military working dogs. It “will give the force an opportunity to remember those special companions that have saved thousands of lives and served so admirably,” the RAF stated.
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