Highest award for army dog Sasha

Somerset County Gazette: Sasha, a four-year-old yellow Labrador, will be honoured with the PDSA's Dickin Medal (PDSA/PA) Sasha, a four-year-old yellow Labrador, will be honoured with the PDSA's Dickin Medal (PDSA/PA)

A dog trained to find explosives who was killed alongside her British Army handler in Afghanistan is to be posthumously awarded the animal kingdom's highest military award.

Sasha, a four-year-old yellow Labrador, will be honoured with the PDSA's Dickin Medal, which the charity said was the animal version of the Victoria Cross.

She was credited with saving the lives of scores of soldiers and local civilians after sniffing out Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), mortars and hidden weaponry.

She was credited with 15 confirmed finds.

Her calm presence and wagging tale was also said to have been a reassuring sight for British Army personnel serving in Afghanistan.

The PDSA said Sasha was only the 65th animal to be awarded the Dickin Medal since it was instituted in 1943. It is the highest award that an animal can receive while serving in military conflict.

Sasha was deployed with handlers from the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, attached to the 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment.

With her handler, she was sent in advance of patrols to find safe routes for soldiers, and her aim was to find weapons and IEDs.

The PDSA said: "Sasha's determination to search and push forward - despite gruelling conditions and relentless Taliban attacks - was a morale boost to the soldiers who entrusted their lives to her weapon-finding capability.

"On one occasion recalled by regimental colleagues, Sasha was searching a building in Garmsir when she detected two mortars and a large quantity of weaponry, including explosives and mines. This find alone undoubtedly saved the lives of many soldiers and civilians."

When she was assigned to Lance Corporal Kenneth Rowe in May 2008 the team were considered the best in the Kandahar region.

She died alongside her handler on 24 July 2008 when their routine patrol was ambushed and they were killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack.

An inquest heard that 24-year-old L/Cpl Rowe, from West Moor near Newcastle, died the day after he was due to return home as he wanted to stay on and complete a planned operation because he was concerned about a lack of cover for comrades.

PDSA Director General Jan McLoughlin said: "We are extremely proud to be awarding a posthumous PDSA Dickin Medal to Military Working Dog Sasha, which is the highest award any animal can receive for lifesaving bravery in military conflict.

"The award is even more poignant as we approach the centenary of World War One and are reminded of the huge debt we owe the animals who serve in times of conflict.

"Sasha's exceptional devotion to duty in Afghanistan saved many lives, both soldiers and civilians.

"This medal, recognised worldwide as the animals' Victoria Cross, honours both Sasha's unwavering service and her ultimate sacrifice.

"Her story exemplifies the dedication of man's best friend and reminds us all of the amazing contribution they make to our lives."

Colonel Neil Smith QHVS, Director Army Veterinary and Remount Services, said: "The Royal Army Veterinary Corps is delighted that PDSA is honouring Sasha by awarding her the PDSA Dickin Medal.

"This prestigious award recognises how her devotion and skills undoubtedly saved the lives of many troops in Afghanistan, and acknowledges the excellent work our Military Working Dogs and their handlers do.

"Sadly this award is posthumous as both Sasha and her handler Lance Corporal Ken Rowe were killed in enemy action in Afghanistan in 2008.

"Our thoughts remain with L/Cpl Rowe's family and this award will give us the opportunity to once more celebrate his and Sasha's immeasurable contributions to military operations."

Other winners of the Dickin Medal - named after the charity's founder Maria Dickin - include 32 World War Two messenger pigeons, three horses and a cat.

The dog handler's mother Lyn Rowe said: "Kenneth always adored animals and loved working with his dogs. He took his role protecting his fellow solders very seriously. We are so proud of him, and he would be incredibly proud that Sasha's bravery is being recognised with the PDSA Dickin Medal."

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