Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Our Longest Servant on Duty in Afghanistan Is Coming Home

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Our Longest Servant on Duty in Afghanistan Is Coming Home

Article excerpt

Byline: Robert Fox Defence Correspondent in Helmand

THE longest-serving member of British forces on operations in southern Afghanistan is about to come home on leave.

Molly, a seven-year-old English springer spaniel, has just completed her fifth tour in Helmand and is returning to her kennel in Germany where she will help train her successors.

"She's a real athlete and can go for 10 hours at a time in the field," said her handler, private veterinary assistant Charlotte Cook, 21, from Borehamwood, Hertfordshire. She has a permanent smile when she talks of Molly, whom she partnered for the first time on this tour.

"Before this I was very much a labrador person," said Pte Cook -- inevitably known as Cookie by colleagues and superiors. "But now I am very definitely for the spaniels, they are so resilient."

We are talking in the main compound of the British military dogs, an astonishing range of breeds -- German shepherds, spaniels of different shapes and sizes, golden retrievers and black labradors in the majority -- showing the growing range and importance of their tasks. They carry out guard duty and drugs surveillance and work with front line infantry units.

"Molly and I have been out with the Rifles, the Mercians and the Royal Marine Commandos," said Pte Cook.

"This tour we made three significant finds." These included sniffing out a suspect booby trap IED, quantities of ammunition and a huge cache of fertiliser, now the main bulk ingredient of Taliban bombs as it was 20 years ago for the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland.

"The dogs are always tremendous morale lifters for the soldiers," she added. "They looked after me well, pulling me out of ditches. I am only five foot three but they always helped.

"The Afghans found me pretty weird at first, and just stared. Then they couldn't stop talking to me but I couldn't understand them. The little girls would come and hug me, and loved playing with my plait. …

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