Inspired by War Dogs and Support Animals such as “Kuno” who won the Dickin Medal while serving with British Special Forces (The Dog Medal of Honor basically).
Tony had not seen Nitro in five years. For creatures with shorter lifespans, Army dogs can serve a long time. Nitro’s military career was defined by his actions on April 23, 2015. Not coincidentally, that is the same day that Tony’s military career ended by and large. Whoever made that mine had done a sloppy job though. It did send the front passenger side door flying through the Humvee as shrapnel, but it failed to kill any soldiers that day. Tony got the worst of it. His right leg was riddled and torn from the knee down. The shock and the adrenaline were enough to numb the pain at first, but time was moving one second at a time. The events that follow the explosion are fuzzy, especially their timing.
The next thing Tony remembered was Nitro biting on his shoulder. It was not an attack bite of course, but rather a tugging bite. Luckily, Tony was not pinned by anything. The issue was wiggling through the shattered vehicle to get to the back left window that was only down because Hank was running out of room in his spitter. Tony managed to squeeze through guided by the pulling and motivating from Nitro. Once outside the wreckage, Nitro barked out in excitement to the other men. The rest of the outfit, who were seated outside the blast range or in the rear vehicles had sprung to action. They secured the hill to the East. Having scared off the would-be ambushers, Nitro set to work sniffing out their weapons stores buried around the hills.
However, the action that won Nitro his medal was leading Tony out of the wreckage who had been assumed dead or mortally wounded in the initial frenzy. Several surgeries and months of therapy later and it was official. Nitro had saved a life and would go on to get military and domestic recognition for his actions. Tony had been there to watch Nitro ceremoniously ‘accept’ his medal. Miraculously, Nitro was not injured in the ambush and went on to serve another tour.
After a storied career, Nitro was set to retire just days after his eighth birthday. Hank, who was still serving to the shock of his peers and dismay of his wife, had got in contact with Tony to let him know the day and flight that Nitro would be on. Tony felt nothing but excitement the entire five-hour drive from Georgia. However, sitting in the hotel parking lot Tony found himself momentarily unable to start the car. The one fear that he had told himself not to even think about was being thought about; what if Nitro does not remember? Then, Tony told himself to remember why he was there in the first place. It was about Nitro, not him. He was there to thank an old friend, a brother, for saving his life. Tony chuckled realizing that a scratch behind the ear and a bite of peanut butter was thanks enough for Nitro.
Nitro woke up that day the same way all days start for Nitro; at 0600 on the dot with a big stretch that gets all the sleepies out. Nitro let himself out of the tent as usual and took care of his business around the corner like a respectable gentleman. Then, back inside the tent, Hank had breakfast and a big ole thing of water waiting for him. Halfway through breakfast, Nitro looked up having been alerted by Hank’s unusual behavior. Nitro felt his energy turn down and watched in confusion as Hank went to the bathroom to blow his nose and wash his face. “Nitro!”, someone shouted from outside. Nitro instinctively answered the call and was met with a nice surprise. Three of the guys had found a couple, perfect sized acacia branches to throw around. Nitro could not understand why the guys insisted on tossing these nice sticks away from them, but he managed to bring them back.
Sadly, none of the other members of Nitro’s unit were going on leave so he found himself alone on the flight with just a few handlers accompanying him. Nitro did not like the handlers since they always kept him on a tight leash. Hank and the boys knew Nitro could be trusted to mingle with the crowds. Plus, Nitro had to make a bit of a ruckus, something he preferred not to do, when the handlers forget his lunch was served at 1200, regardless of any international flight time changes. So, he was relieved when he felt the jolt of the plane landing in Maryland. Nitro did not envision himself as a bird by any means, but he had been in enough vehicles to know the difference between breaking and landing. This was a longer mission than he was used to.
It was a bad habit, but Tony allowed himself to pay the extra tax to get some smokes on the drive up. He was getting ready to sneak one out and light it, when he caught the signs of a commotion in the corner of his eye. It was Nitro barking at the handlers, who in Nitro’s view had made some mistake with his flight information. Tony ran through the sliding, automatic doors with the speed and vigor of someone without a prosthetic leg. He saluted saying, “Anthony Russo, private first class”. “At ease”, replied the NCO. At that moment, Nitro got loose from the other handler. He ran to Tony before Tony could even think to brace himself. He fell to the floor smothered with Nitro’s kisses. One thing was sure; he remembered.
The handlers gave the brothers in arms some time, but soon enough Nitro had to report to base. There were some administrative tasks to finish up as he left service. Tony pressed his head against Nitro’s and whispered his thanks into his big ears. Then, he pulled out the peanut butter treat he brought, and the officers looked the other way. “Alright, time to go Nitro”, said one handler as he went to leash Nitro. He resisted a good amount for a dog that never disobeyed orders. “How have you been getting along with that leg?” asked the other man. “Why do you ask?” is all Tony could get out in reply. “These dogs don’t get pads in Florida. A lot of times they transition into some other service”. Tony laughed to himself. “What’s funny?”. “I knew you could adopt kids, but I never thought I could adopt a brother”.