While serving in the military you meet many people who leave an imprint on your life but Sergeant Graham Ellis says nothing compares to the bond he formed with his Explosive Detection Dog, Digger.
Serving for eight years from 2006 until 2014, Digger is just one of many four-legged diggers that are unsung heroes of war.
Recently Digger was awarded the Canine Operational Service for his service, in recognition of the important contributions of military dogs to the Australian Army.
Sergeant Graham Ellis said he is proud to see dogs like Digger recognised for their hard work and commitment during conflict.
“It’s a relationship built on trust and saving lives – ask anyone on patrol, the dogs make them feel safer and they get to have their best mate out there with them on the field,” he said.
Graham said Digger is intelligent and independent but as soon as the harness came out, his dog knew that it was working time.
The bond Graham has formed with Digger is unbreakable.
“When you’re a million miles away from home doing a dangerous job, you’ve got your best mate beside you and that’s inexplicable. I love him to death, he’s been the best thing for me.”
The Australian Army has a long tradition of working with dogs in different roles in deployments all over the world.
It was Digger’s role to detect many different chemicals that make up Improvised Explosive Devices, ammunition, weapons and more.
“All you have to do is train and then trust them, we use the dogs to sniff out weapons, explosives and ammunition that we can’t find ourselves; without our dogs it would take us at least five times as long to do the job.”
Graham explained that initially the dogs come from the pound, chosen at the right age and by breed and then taken for two weeks of training to determine if they are suitable for military service.
If the dogs are not selected, they are then put up for adoption and by this stage they now have some basic training so are well behaved and ready for new owners.
The one prerequisite for the military is that the dog needs to be obsessed with a tennis ball because this is the way they are rewarded during service.
This makes them really determined to sniff out what they are looking for on the field.
Before they are deployed, just like any member of the military, they go through an extensive training program and while Graham has trained a number of dogs, he has spent the most time with Digger.
In 2012 Digger was injured jumping out of a helicopter with Graham but he returned to service in 2013 before retiring in 2014.
Graham said it was pretty special to see how loyal these dogs are.
“It’s amazing what a dog will do for you… winching, travelling in boats, planes or helicopters – they totally trust you, that’s just the way they are, and that bond is vital.”
Graham and Digger returned home from Afghanistan in 2014 and now Digger is twelve and a half years old, having earned the chance to enjoy a well-earned retirement life with Graham on the Sunshine Coast.
“We are constantly together and I don’t like being away from him; if I was ever away from him during service it would feel like I had lost a leg. He’s my best mate.”