On September 19, I saw a photo of a familiar dog on my Facebook newsfeed. A black Lab named Turbo. I looked at the name of the person posting it. Jon Silvey. Also familiar. I searched my emails and saw the start of his first note to me in May of 2012, from Afghanistan:
I just returned to my task force kennels after a few extremely long mission and was greeted by a few care packages. I was lucky enough to receive a heart felt care package from you containing a little piece of home and an amazing book. I am so grateful of all the supporters from back in the States but was especially overwhelmed by your book…
I re-read our subsequent correspondence, and messaged Sgt. Silvey to get an update. By great coincidence, he had adopted Turbo that very day. “He just retired today after 10 years of service,” he wrote. “He has served 3 tours as a specialized search dog, and has been with me 5 years. We have worked with Special Forces from different branches and countries.”
It was heartwarming to read — in hindsight now that he has become Turbo’s “dad” (this from a father of four human children) — what he wrote about working with this black Lab with a great nose — and about my book as well.
Let me just first say how much I love my job. I have been in the Army for some time now and done a lot of different things but nothing compares to showing up to work and seeing Turbo’s excite-full face every morning. So I am very appreciative to receive a signed book from you that depicts what we all know already but what others in the States and abroad need to know. People need to grasp that dogs are such an important part of the fight and they save many lives.
I can truly say that I have never had a battle buddy that I trusted more with my life than Turbo. He always lends an ear when I need someone to talk to and he never interrupts. He doesn’t talk much but when I look into his eyes I know that he is listening to every word I say. Thank you for addressing this and putting it out there for people to read.
He wrote me that he feels like he was meant to be with Turbo. A series of coincidences put them in each other’s realm on various occasions, and he finally ended up being matched with Turbo at SSD (specialized search dog) school at Lackland Air Force Base. He wrote in later emails that he has deployed and mobilized four times before that deployment with Turbo, but as an MP without a dog.
He couldn’t believe his luck in getting Turbo for his first deployment as a dog handler – a job he calls “the best in the Army.”
I’ve done a lot of things in my Army career and worked with some of the best the Army has to offer but nothing compares to being a dog handler and working with Turbo everyday. Turbo does more than find explosives. He finds ways to motivate me and others around him on a daily basis.
Being an SSD, he has two jobs. He is an explosive detector dog and a morale officer. Around here everyone knows Turbo or has heard of him. He brings joy and comfort to everyone he works around and everyone that he passes by. Soldiers and contractors stop me all the time so they can pet Turbo or take pictures with him. They always tell me stories of their dogs back home and how Turbo reminds them of their dog.
In another email from Afghanistan, he continued talking about his partner.
I am honored to be able to do what I do everyday. Turbo just always seems to brighten up everyone’s day. As soon as they see him there’s an automatic smile from everyone and a cheerfulness that explodes from their faces. From time to time he is a cuddle bug but really he just likes to try to play fetch with everyone.
The secret to Turbo’s heart is a ball or a treat. If Turbo could talk I think he would say “I have never met a treat didn’t like”. As far as a 6th sense, I think all dogs have the gift to recognize the needy and lonely. Turbo always knows when I need that extra lick on the face or the paw on my leg that almost says “everything is going to be alright.” Dogs are truly amazing.
He sent along this pic of Turbo wearing booties, with an explanation.
Turbo wears booties a lot because of the gravel found at a lot of the FOB (forward operating bases) and PSS (police sub stations). Turbo also is older and has joint issues from time to time and wearing the booties helps him maintain a even surface while walking around. Turbo wears his booties on a lot of missions. Especially when he is searching areas that contain a lot of glass, chemicals, metal, and things of that nature. We call them his “Air Turbs”. He is thinking about his own shoe line. Lol!
I took this photo to show people some of the conditions the MWDs have to search in. It’s not a picnic by any means for them. They get down and search through some nasty stuff. Including human waste and garbage.
Our correspondence continued, and I asked where Turbo sleeps, being 99.99 percent sure of the answer. This is what he wrote.
Turbo always sleeps with me. When we are back at the kennels (which is really just a tent and doesn’t consist of any real kennels) Turbo sleeps on my bed with me. He has his spot and I have mine. When we are out on mission Turbo will sleep in my sleeping bag with me or right next to me. He doesn’t like to leave my side to often. Missions are all different and Turbo and I never know where we will be sleeping. On one mission in the mountains we slept on a hill side and when we woke up there was like a foot of snow on top of us. I just depends on the mission.
He went on to talk about Turbo’s most valuable asset: his nose, and his ability to use it to save lives.
Turbo and I walk point on missions. Given the nature of the enemy’s dedication of trying to blow us up. You really must trust your partner’s nose when you are out front walking a roadway, path, wadi, orchard, compound, or village. I can safely say that no one has ever suffered an injury due to Turbo missing anything. Everyone has followed behind us with no issues. I would go as far as to say that Turbo could find the needle in the haystack if you catch my drift. Even my wife and kids say that “daddy will be ok because he has Turbo and Turbo would never let anything happened to daddy.”
It’s as if Turbo should be wearing tights and a cape. He is not equipment. He is my hero and guardian. He is my battle buddy and my friend. He’s not only a Soldier with four-legs and a sniffer. He is Soldier that works for a simple pat on the head or a ball. He doesn’t care if it is to hot or raining. He doesn’t complain or run his mouth. He just does his job. That’s all he knows how to do, and he loves doing it. Turbo is my equal.
I got sand in my eyes as I read the words of this man working with Special Forces and infantry in Kandahar Province. It would be more than two years later that we’d pick up the thread of our conversation, when I found the photo of Turbo on his Facebook page.
He and Turbo had some close calls, and Turbo now has PTSD when he hears loud noises, poor fellow. But he’s safe at home now, with four children, two other dogs, and all the love and tennis balls he can handle.
Turbo’s retired life is becoming more real for him everyday. He couldn’t believe that he could have a ball or toy without having to do something for it. He slept with two tennis balls last night lol. He loves my two little boys and likes to just hang out with them while they play XBOX or watch TV. He was a little confused when I got in my ACUs this morning and wasn’t allowed to come with me to work. (Silvey is still an Army dog handler.) He still goes in front of me when I walk around the house as if he still needs to clear a path for me. He is my best friend and an amazing dog. I don’t think I could ever express in words how much he means to me. I am so happy he is finally home and look forward to our new adventures together.
Welcome home, Turbo. May you have years of the life you deserve. Thank you for your service, and Sgt. Silvey and family, thank you for opening your hearts and home to this beloved soldier dog.
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A dog’s paw, a sergeant’s boot. “He had huge feet, a huge heart,” Army Sgt. Amanda Ingraham told me of her former military working dog, Rex, a noble, gentle giant of a German Shepherd. (Photo courtesy of Army Sgt. Amanda Ingraham. You can learn Rex’s story in Soldier Dogs.)