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Bomb-sniffing K9, soldier reunited after tour in Afghanistan

February 14, 2015

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Richmond County Sheriff’s Sgt. John Gray and former Marine Cpl. Paul Robbins both became emotional over now-retired bomb dog Max this month, but for different reasons.

Gray was saying goodbye to the 7-year-old Labrador who’d been his companion since 2012. Robbins was reuniting with an old friend he had walked with through the dangerous deserts of Afghanistan.

Robbins flew to Augusta to take Max back to Massachusetts so the two could, as he put it, “grow old together.” He trained with Max for five months in 2011 as they were both being prepared for a deployment to the Middle East. They then spent another five months together in southern Helmand, Afghanistan.

“We would be out in the desert for hours walking around,” said Robbins, who joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 2009 and became a machine gunner. ”...He would run out to specific spot and we’d know there was an IED there.”

But their partnership came to an end when they returned to the U.S.

Max, like many military bomb-sniffing dogs, was made available to a law enforcement agency. The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office purchased Max for $5 in 2012 and put him in Gray’s hands.

Robbins said he and the other dog handlers only had a few minutes to say goodbye to their animals.

“That was the toughest thing,” he said. “Even being at war, that was probably the toughest.”

Max did multiple assignments with the sheriff’s office, including working security at Augusta National Golf Club the past two Masters Tournaments. Gray said the dog, who played like a puppy but was serious at work, passed two exceptionally hard certifications that allow for no margin of error.

Since their separation, Robbins said he couldn’t get Max out of his mind. So Robbins, who is now an officer at Lowell (Mass.) Police Department, began searching for Max and located him in Augusta.

“I wanted to check on him and make sure he was OK,” said Robbins, whose trip to Augusta was paid by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office through donated funds. “John (Gray) was awesome about it. He told me from Day 1 that his plan was to get him back to me.”

On Tuesday, Max wagged his tail and affectionately licked Robbins in the face, but then he’d pause and look over at Gray and push his head over for a rub between the ears from his current master.

Gray has been a trainer for Richmond County for 16 years, but this is the first dog he’s had to say goodbye to. All others that retired lived out the remainder of their lives in his home. He still wears a band on his arm in memory of one of his past K9s that died.

“Animals know when it’s sticky out there, and they (Robbins and Max) lived a sticky life,” Gray said as tears formed in the corner of his eyes as he struggled to let Max go. “Their bond is something special.”

Gray said he tried to make Max’s last day with him as special as he could, minus one last trip to the vet. He even got special treats - human food - just this once.

“I gave him a bath. He loves a bath,” Gray said. “Then we hung out. I told him, ‘This is your day, bud.’”

Robbins said he’s excited to get Max back to Massachusetts where there are tons of friends and their dogs who are eager to meet him.

“This means the world to me,” he said.


Information from: The Augusta Chronicle , http://www.augustachronicle.com

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