By Airman 1st Class Zachary Perras, 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 15, 2012
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
Editor's note: This is the third part of a series featuring Staff Sgt. Leonard Anderson and his military working dog, Azza.
"He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart." -- Unknown
He walks with a slight limp, but he holds a certain determination in his gait.
As he sits, she rests her head beside him. She watches him when he moves, keeping a trained eye focused on his movements.
The two are old friends, partners - they are family.
Staff Sgt. Leonard Anderson, former 354th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler now assigned to the 59th Patient Squadron, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, wants nothing more than a simple life with Azza, his 8-year-old Belgian Malinois military working dog, by his side. When he sees her, there is a spark in his eye.
The two have been through hell and back together, having survived an improvised explosive device attack while on a deployment to Sperwan Ghar, Afghanistan. While the attack injured Anderson, it did not deplete his spirits, nor did it take away from the union he shares with Azza.
"It's hard to put into words how close you are with your partner when something like what happened goes down," Anderson explained. "It's a bond that can never be broken - it's something that no one can stand between, and it's a feeling that not many people get to feel, especially between handler and dog."
Anderson's recovery has been an arduous journey with over 20 surgeries complete. A majority of them have helped recover the use of his hands as well as his legs. He has also successfully finished over three months of rehabilitation to regain the use of his legs and strengthen his fingers.
Despite the recovery process Anderson has undergone thus far, along with what he faces in the months to come, his attention is set on a specific purpose: giving back and staying involved with the K-9 community.
"I want to try and make the career field better in some way, shape or form," he said. "It's horrible when someone does get hit - but the one thing that I think ... everybody kind of wants to know, in a positive manner, is what they can do to evolve with these dogs in the training to make it better so it never happens again to any of our brothers and sisters. That's what I want to bring to the table."
What Anderson truly hopes to do is become an instructor with the Department of Defense MWD program. Whether he trains dogs or handlers matters not - as long as he is contributing to the mission, he said he will be satisfied.
Having maintained an alpha mentality, the kind that Azza complements, throughout most of his career, Anderson does not feel hindered by what happened. In fact, he said, it was a bit of an eye-opening experience.
"I'm always striving to be better - I can't let anybody smell fear," said Anderson. "I maintain my confidence by living by the motto to be the best, no matter what. I was always taught to never put my head down - never get down on myself. Learn, fix the problem, and move on and be the best."
For Anderson to be the best, he wants Azza to be a permanent part of his life. He has hopes for her as well, and does not want to let anything get in the way. If all goes according to plan, he would have Azza become a special services dog.
"She's a lover, so I can take her everywhere with me if I want," Anderson commented. "That way, she can just walk around and be happy, love on people and get the things she likes. And she'll have it all day, every day, at home."
Regardless of what happens to Anderson, he knows that Azza will make any situation better. At the end of the day, she will be his support, his refuge and his best friend.
"That little pain in your ankle or that little pain in your knee - you walk in and see her and you don't even think about the pain anymore."
Although Anderson's future in the Air Force is uncertain, he wants to continue in any capacity, whether that is in uniform or not. He also knows Azza is worthy of something more than the life of a military working dog.
"She's earned her keep," Anderson said. "She deserves to be at home on the couch, lying on a carpeted floor and not concrete - she deserves all that, and I'm going to be the one to give it to her. I feel like I owe it to her. She deserves a palace if I could give it to her."