Thursday, 3 March 2011

"Top bomb sniffer dog dies after handler is shot dead in Helmand" (News item from The Times, 3rd March)

A dog that held the record for finding the most home-made bombs and weapons in Afghanistan has died after his handler was killed.

Theo, a 22-month-old springer spaniel cross, and Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, 26, of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, 1st Military Working Dog Regiment, came under small arms fire in the Nahr-e Saraj district in Helmand Province on Tuesday.

Lance Corporal Tasker, who was from Kirkcaldy, Fife, was shot dead and it is understood that Theo died from a seizure at Camp Bastion. As an Arms Explosive Search dog, Theo was the “front man” of the patrol.

Theo, who was donated to the Army by a member of the public, had been on his first six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan with the Theatre Military Working Dog Support Unit, based at Camp Bastion, but its tour was extended a month after it sniffed out 14 weapons and improvised explosive devices in his first five months.

Lance Corporal Tasker had initially joined the Army in 2001 as a vehicle mechanic but his passion for dogs led to a transfer to the Royal Army Veterinary Corps six years later.

Speaking last month, Lance Corporal Tasker had said he did not know that the dog support unit existed until a friend showed him videos of the dogs at work. “I love my job and working together with Theo. He has great character and never tires. He can’t wait to get out and do his job,” he said.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Thorpe, Commanding Officer, 1st Military Working Dog Regiment, said: “It’s a challenge to put into words what Lance Corporal Tasker meant to those he worked with. To his friends he was a mate who could put a smile on your face. He was that man who you wanted around and who you wanted to spend time with.He genuinely loved the dogs he worked with.”

Lance Corporal Tasker’s death brings to 358 the number of British military personnel to have died in Afghanistan since operations began in 2001.

In a statement released through the Ministry of Defence, his family said: “There are three words that best describe Liam: larger than life. He lit up every room he walked into with his cheeky smile. He was the best son, grandson, brother and friend you could ever wish to meet.

“He died a hero doing a job he was immensely passionate about. We are so proud of him and everything he’s achieved. Words can’t describe how sorely he will be missed.”

His girlfriend, Leah Walters, said: “LT never met anyone without touching their lives in some way. The amount of support both I and his family have received in the last day alone pays testament to this.

“I am the proudest girlfriend there could ever be and there will be an LT-sized hole in my life forever.”

A spokesman for the MoD said: “We believe the dog may have died from a seizure. A post-mortem will be conducted to determine what the cause of death was.”

Theo may, however, be in line for an animal bravery award from the veterinary charity the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. The PDSA, which awards medals to cats, horses, pigeons and dogs for acts of bravery or exceptional duty, has awarded 27 dogs the Dickin Medal since 1944.

The last dog to be awarded a medal was Treo, a labrador, who was killed in Helmand Province in August.

A PDSA spokesman said: “The normal process is for a nomination to made to the PDSA, citing out the circumstances of the animal’s particular deeds. Theo’s nomination can come from a member of the public, but usually we receive nominations from the Armed Forces themselves. We would welcome any nomination in an instance like this.”

My on-line comment is as follows:

"Bring them all home, the brave men and the brave dogs."

And here is the link to the Daily Mail reportage of the return to England of the late Lance Corporal Liam Tasker and the late Theo, his dog -

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