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    Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer bonds with Navy working dog on battlefield

    Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer bonds with Navy working dog on battlefield

    Courtesy Photo | Capt. Jacob S. Rafalson served with U.S. Navy working dog Bongo during a deployment to...... read more read more

    FORT BLISS, TEXAS, UNITED STATES

    02.28.2023

    Story by Walter Ham  

    20th CBRNE Command

    FORT BLISS, Texas – An Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer developed an enduring bond with a Navy working dog during missions in Afghanistan.

    Capt. Jacob S. Rafalson, the EOD officer for the 1st Armored Division on Fort Bliss, Texas, served with a Navy working dog named Bongo during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2019.

    As a part of the 749th EOD Company, Rafalson led an EOD platoon that worked out of Kabul International Airport and Bongo served on bomb detection missions.

    Rafalson’s EOD platoon in Afghanistan served on numerous joint and allied operations.

    “In Afghanistan, we worked with every branch of the military and multiple partner nations,” said Rafalson, a Lake Zurich, Illinois, native who deployed once to Afghanistan and three times to Africa for humanitarian demining training missions during his seven years in the U.S. Army.

    Rafalson had Czech Republic Armed Forces and U.S. Air Force EOD teams attached to his EOD platoon that responded to suspected Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs) sites and conducted presence patrols, route clearance and reconnaissance missions.

    The Fort Carson, Colorado-based 749th EOD Company is assigned to the 242nd EOD Battalion, 71st EOD Group and 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, the U.S. Department of Defense’s premier all hazards command.

    Prior to his current assignment on Fort Bliss, Rafalson commanded the 759th EOD Company “Detonators” on Fort Irwin, California, which is part of the 3rd EOD Battalion, 71st EOD Group and 20th CBRNE Command.

    Rafalson said Bongo and other working dogs like him save lives on the battlefield.

    “Military Working Dogs like Bongo can serve multiple roles downrange,” said Rafalson. “When working in conjunction with EOD, they can provide critical early warning detection for explosive hazards, enabling operators to avoid or neutralize a threat.”

    The operations Military Working Dogs support are often dangerous and difficult. During a mission with another unit in Logar Province, Bongo, his handler, Navy Master-at-Arms 1st Class Derek Olson, and their team were struck by a vehicle borne IED.

    “Fortunately, nobody was severely injured and both Bongo and his handler were able to continue serving,” said Rafalson.

    Following the deployment, the Chicago White Sox recognized Olson and Bongo on the field during a game in May 2018.

    A sable German Shepherd, Bongo serves on Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, the U.S. Navy’s largest training base and home to its only boot camp.

    Master-at-Arms 3rd Class Miranda G. Webb is the current handler for 8-year-old Bongo, the oldest working dog at the Naval Station Great Lakes Kennel.

    “You wouldn’t know he was eight though,” said Webb. “He doesn’t show or act like it.”

    The U.S. military has approximately 1,600 Military Working Dogs that serve in every branch of the United States Armed Services. These highly trained dogs not only provide paws on the ground but also support operations at sea and in the air. The U.S. Air Force’s 341st Training Squadron has been training the dogs since the 1950s.

    Webb became interested in the Military Working Dog Program while attending Master-at-Arms “A” School on Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

    “I went and talked to anyone and everyone about K-9s and had a board scheduled for our class,” said Webb. “I was the only one selected out of 60 students. I was very lucky and grateful.”

    During the three-month MWD school, Webb was recognized by the commanding officer of the 341st Training Squadron for helping to move 806 dogs into a warehouse during a winter storm.

    A native of Roanoke, Virginia, Webb hopes to graduate from Veterinary School and become an Army Veterinarian Officer.

    Webb said Bongo and other Military Working Dogs support many Very Important Person visits to the area and train to safeguard the base.

    Army EOD technicians from 20th CBRNE Command also routinely provide security for VIP visits and one Army mission in July 2022 gave Rafalson the opportunity to reunite with Bongo.

    Master-at-Arms 1st Class Austin J. Klinkhammer, Bongo’s handler at the time, set up the reunion between the Rafalson and Bongo.

    “The highlight of crossing paths with Capt. Rafalson was being able to hear firsthand that this dog’s life of service made a positive impact on our men and women who served in Afghanistan,” said Klinkhammer. “We are all grateful for the captain and Bongo’s service and for the sacrifices of others like them.”

    Rafalson said that Bongo not only protected his EOD platoon from Improvised Explosive Devices but also kept them motivated during the long deployment.

    “A good Military Working Dog can have a huge boost on morale and help to provide some much-needed emotional relief in high stress environments,” said Rafalson.

    His most memorable mission with Bongo came during an extended route clearance operation outside the wire. Bongo and his handler helped the EOD team leader clear a route for a dismounted reconnaissance patrol.

    “We were on what was supposed to be a three-hour reconnaissance mission that turned into an overnight mission when one of our partner force trucks accidently drove off the road on the narrowest part of the route,” said Rafalson. “It took us about eight hours to recover that vehicle. Bongo was in the truck with us and was well-behaved the whole time.”

    Rafalson said that even highly disciplined and well-trained Military Working Dogs like Bongo still like to play sometimes.

    “He has a playful but reliable temperament,” said Rafalson. “One of his particular quirks was that he loved water bottles and would frequently try to run off with your water bottle if you weren’t paying attention.”

    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 02.28.2023
    Date Posted: 02.28.2023 11:34
    Story ID: 439363
    Location: FORT BLISS, TEXAS, US
    Hometown: LAKE ZURICH, ILLINOIS, US
    Hometown: NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES, ILLINOIS, US
    Hometown: ROANOKE, VIRGINIA, US

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    Downloads: 1

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