An Iceman and his best friend

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Zachary Perras
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: This is part of a series featuring Staff Sgt. Leonard Anderson and his military working dog, Azza.

"The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog." -- George Graham Vest

The saying goes that dog is man's best friend. In the world of military working dogs, this bond becomes something more due to one simple fact: in a life or death situation, man relies upon dog for survival and vice versa.

For one of Eielson's own and his K-9, an impeccable team described as the best of the best, the connection is one step beyond the norm.

Staff Sgt. Leonard Anderson, 354th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, and his 8-year-old Belgian Malinois, Azza, worked together for a year at Eielson before being deployed to Afghanistan this year.

Having displayed an unheard of commitment to Azza, Anderson established himself as a "real dog handler's dog handler." He and Azza were an effective team, at home and abroad, and they set the standard for excellence, said Tech. Sgt. Scott Stitt, 354th SFS kennel master.

"Anderson has a passion for K-9 that I haven't seen in a long time - he lives and breathes the K-9 world," Stitt said. "He and Azza click - they mesh together - and they're a team that every kennel master would love to have."

While K-9s are classified as military equipment, they certainly are not treated as just another piece of gear. Handlers and their canine counterparts are an extension of each other, working to complement the strengths of one another to accomplish whatever the mission requires. This was evident in Anderson and Azza's relationship.

"Dogs aren't machines - they have free will," said Maj. James Slaton, 354th SFS commander. "But there's a link there, an excellent handler and dog relationship where Azza responded fluidly to Anderson's commands and Anderson was able to pick up very well on Azza's cues and body language."

After nearly two months of his deployment, however, the unthinkable happened: an improvised explosive device went off, and Anderson was injured. Azza was safe, but the two were separated during Anderson's road to recovery.

The two were recently reunited during Anderson's recovery, and the bond previously formed did not weaken. Without any hesitation, Azza responded to Anderson as if the two had never separated at all.

"Not all handlers are created equal, and Anderson cares for Azza in a way that few handlers care for their dogs. It's absolutely clear to me that Anderson loves Azza," said Slaton. "There's a very tight bond there, and it's hard to imagine a better handler-dog combination than we had in those two."

Slaton attributes such a successful team to the model of developing a military working dog. Many pieces make up the whole, and it is something that Anderson put in hours upon hours to perfect.

"You take pieces of the relationship between two comrades in arms, throw a little bit of a parent to child relationship and also a little bit of pet and owner relationship," Slaton explained. "Add in [non-commissioned officer] and leadership capabilities on the part of the handler, mix in the well-crafted tool that is the dog, and you come up with this pretty amazing combination [in Anderson and Azza.]"

After a momentous reunion for the inseparable team, one thing that rings true is that Anderson and Azza deserve to be together.