JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A military dog credited with saving lives in combat zones retires as a chief at Naval Station Mayport Wednesday.
Tens of thousands of veterans and active-duty military members live in Jacksonville. Fewer of those members are dogs, but they also do dangerous jobs.
"At the end of the day, he's saving lives," said Master-at-Arms First Class Eric Dossantos at Naval Station Mayport.
Dossantos is standing with Navy dog Hero, who Dossantos says is retiring after 47 dog years in the service. He will be going to spend his retirement with one of his former handlers.
"His work in Qatar and Kuwait during Operation Enduring Freedom definitely played a part in saving lives," Dossantos said.
Not all dogs returned home from Operation Enduring Freedom. More than 90 military working dogs died on deployment during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2001 through 2013, according to research published in the Society of Federal Health Professionals' journal Military Medicine.
There are about 1,600 military working dogs, according to the Department of Defense. They're used for explosive detection, tracking, search and rescue and attacking. Hero's job is to detect odors, but Dossantos says he can't say much more than that because it's sensitive information.
Hero has clocked over 4,000 hours of searching for odors. Dossantos says he works with him 10 hours a day.
"He's had a great life here in the Navy," he said. "He's done a lot for the country. So he definitely deserves now to just sit on the couch and just hang out and not have a worry in the world."
As military families on the First Coast await the safe return of their own deployed loved ones, they can know man's best friend went through it and all four legs came home safe.