Riding in an armored truck over Afghanistan’s rutted dirt roads is scarcely a smooth or comfortable experience.
Each bump is felt as leaf springs groan and creak under the weight of the mine resistant, ambush-protected vehicle. The air conditioner circulates dusty air, and unless you’re right next to the vents, you’re drenched in sweat. Body armor weighs down on shoulders and compounds the pain of sitting in one spot for hours on end.
For Lance Cpl. Stephen Mader and his dog Maxx, this experience is routine. Mader is an improvised explosive device detector dog handler with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6.
Their MRAP hits a large bump. Water in a metal dish near the truck’s back entrance splashes onto the floor. Maxx, who was dozing, stands up, puts his front paws on Mader’s lap and nuzzles his head against Mader’s body armor.
Mader wraps his arms around Maxx, gives him a pat on the side, a scratch behind the ears and reassures him everything is alright. Maxx, settles back down, his chin across Mader’s boots – his spot – and closes his eyes again.
“It’s basically like having a 3-year-old in Afghanistan,” Mader, who is responsible for every aspect of Maxx’s care, said. He feeds him, cleans him and even monitors Maxx’s behavior for signs of stress or fatigue.