BLOOMFIELD, Ind. – Air Force Sgt. Harvey Holt and his canine partner, Jackson, often slept outside the barracks in Iraq, sharing a sleeping bag, because Army soldiers were leery of the Belgian Malinois.
Holt, now a deputy with the Greene County Sheriff's Department, was deployed with the dog for six months in 2006 and 2007. They survived sniper attacks, improvised explosive devices and night searches. The dog sniffed out unexploded bombs, discovered hidden weapons and, once, pulled a sniper by the leg out of a hay bale during a battle north of Baghdad.
Jackson, Holt told The Herald-Times, saved some lives. His included.
When he returned to the United States with the dog at his side in February 2007, Holt had to turn his partner over to a new handler. He remembers crying, for more than an hour, then leaving Jackson behind.
“He got me through, and we made it home safe,” he said. “Then, when I was to hand the leash over to his next handler, I knew we'd never see each other again.”
Seven years later, their reunion is just days away. Jackson, now an aging 10-year-old dog, has been officially retired from military duty. Holt has been trying for a few years to raise enough money to adopt the dog and transport him to Indiana so he can live out his life on a Greene County farm.
On Monday, Cook Inc.'s corporate jet is scheduled to fly to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to retrieve the dog. Cook officials declined to comment on the loaning of the jet, which is expected to land at the Monroe County airport that evening, dog in tow.
Holt said he, along with some military officials, is making the trip to Maryland to bring Jackson back. In the meantime, he is scurrying to gather supplies to build a proper heated and secure kennel to house his old comrade. Monetary contributions can be made at any Bloomfield State Bank branch to the Homes for Heroes fund, set up in Holt's name.
Holt was headed to Lowe's to purchase lumber, then to Freedom to pick up pallets of bricks made and donated by Hessit Works Inc. “I contacted them yesterday to get prices, and they volunteered to donate anything needed for the kennel floor,” Holt said. “He's a digger, so there has to be a solid surface.”
There's no time to pour cement or asphalt, since Holt must have a kennel ready by Monday. A high fence is necessary as well; Jackson likes to climb.
It's been a while since soldier and dog have seen one another. Holt expects Jackson might not recognize him at first. “I'll be like a stranger trying to get him into a kennel,” he said. “Dogs remember, but seven years is a long time. I hope he will eventually remember me.”
Through the years, Holt has kept a vigil of sorts, searching online for photographs or accounts from Jackson's life in a war zone. He found several pictures and has also seen images and stories about Jackson published in books.
“My nephew had a book fair at his school here in Greene County, and one of the books had Jackson's picture on it and he said, `Hey, that's my uncle's dog.' They didn't believe him until I took in a photo of me and him and that same picture,” Holt said. “And friends of mine were thumbing through some books at Walmart and found a picture and a story about us.”
Holt struggled to return to civilian life, the horrors of war and the loss of his dog compounding the transition. His former commanders offered comfort in the form of a Belgian Malinois puppy named Hepsy, who had flunked out of military dog training. “It helped me tremendously, having that PTSD dog and training her. I renamed her Jackie.”
But he didn't forget Jackson, whose face is tattooed on Holt's left calf, near where the dog would sit and heel. “I did that hoping he would someday be back there, at my left side.”
And there he will be. Come Monday.