by Airman 1st Class Cary Smith
31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
6/25/2015 - AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- The
wind blows past her ears as she sprints across a field to chase down
her target. Tora sets off to tackle any obstacle her handler has put her
up against. Words can't completely describe the bond the two have for
The bond between Tora, 31st Security Forces Squadron explosives and
patrol military working dog, and Tech. Sgt. Gabriel Travers, 31st SFS
MWD handler, started with a test of strength. It was measured against
real-life scenarios from deployments and continues on through the
luxuries of home life with a new family.
"I look at her not only as a dog, but as a person who saved my husband's
life," said Megan Travers. "I respect and love Tora, because I know
what they've been through."
The experiences started five years ago when Travers was recommended for
training as a handler. His superiors noticed something that set him
apart from other defenders.
"My chief told me my personality would be great to serve as a handler,"
said Travers. "I think he saw that I take charge, but am also a
compassionate and caring individual."
Compassion and leadership are essential when training MWDs, said Travers.
"It takes dedication for the handler to know when to have a firm hand
with their dog," said Tech. Sgt. Keaton Mickle, 31st SFS MWD trainer.
"There is a time and place to play, and one to be dedicated to the
mission. Travers has a good understanding of that balance."
Travers returned from K9 School and was paired with his first dog,
Fuels. Fuels excelled in sniffing out smuggled narcotics, but he lacked
the aggressive temperament to apprehend people during an arrest.
Seven months later Travers moved to Aviano Air Base, Italy, and to a new
dog. Tora was the polar opposite, aggressive in all regards, even with
something as simple as eating food. Tora challenged Travers, and the two
built a relationship that looked more like family than a working
"You grow to love your dog because of the amount of time and effort
spent with them," said Travers. "Then there are times when the dog is
telling you 'No, I'm not going to do it today,' and they frustrate you
to no end."
Countless hours of training and reading behavior books helped Travers
shape Tora's behavior so she could effectively search for explosive
devices and engage with aggressors.
Throughout training, their trust and respect evolved for one another as
commands slowly became requests during real life scenarios.
"I tell a dog to do something when I'm training them," said Travers.
"After they understand what I want them to do, I shift to the ask
mentality so we can accomplish our task together."
The duo deployed to the deserts of Afghanistan in 2012, where tasks they
needed to accomplish would push their bond of love and trust to the
Military working dogs and their handlers are assigned to ground units on
the front line, where they search for explosives in an effort to save
lives of the service members behind them.
"There was a time when we were in too many fire fights and she didn't
want to work anymore, she was mentally done after being so close to
explosions," said Travers. "All I could do was to try and ask her to put
her life on the line for me and let her know I'd protect her."
Travers would often ask himself, "How can I ask her to do it again?" or
"How can I expect her to do anything else?" There was no option for them
to leave that environment and be replaced by a less-experienced team;
he would rather stick it out and fix their problems, he said.
"If you're scared to walk outside the wire, the dog can sense that and
they're not going to work efficiently," said Travers. "At the end of the
day in those environments, we loved each other and survived through it
Those difficult times remind Travers of how strong of a bond they have.
The dog handler is dependent on the keen senses of a canine and the
canine is dependent on the loving protection of the dog handler.
The pair returned from the Afghanistan deserts to ripe vineyards
surrounding Aviano, eager to continue their training with walks around
the flightline perimeter. The next three years were spent re-certifying
and keeping both Tora's and Travers' senses alert until the final day of
duty would come.
Tora, now 11, enjoys her plush pillow bed in the kennels. Newly retired,
she can now accept petting and treats from strangers.
"Tora knows something is about to happen because we haven't worked
together since early June," said Travers. "I want my family there with
me to bring her home from the kennels because she is more than a dog,
she is like my child."
Tora will have plenty of time to adjust to the active Travers' family
lifestyle with two young boys and a wife that likes to run.
"One thing I have to remember, is even though she's a retired working
dog she needs to be active," said Travers. "But I'm envisioning plenty
of cuddle time too because she needs and thrives on love and affection."
Although their work together is done, Travers and Tora will forever have
a bond that is inseparable, made stronger by hardships they faced.
Looking back on their time together, Travers said the "Guardians of the
Night" poem is a perfect representation of his MWD experiences.
"Trust in me my friend for I am your comrade. I will protect you with my
last breath when all others have left you and the loneliness of the
night closes in. I will be at your side...
...If we should meet again on another street I will gladly take up your
fight. I am a Police Working Dog and together we are guardians of the