Honor hardworking heroes

Staff Sgt. Cliff Hartley’s dog, Cir, retired in October and lives with Hartley in North Charleston.

We celebrate our workers in this country today. Maybe we should also take a moment to remember those who work for us in uniform in other parts of the world.

Not too long ago, one of those people was Cliff Hartley. He joined the Air Force at the age of 19, and one year ago today, he spent Labor Day walking a dusty road in Afghanistan with his dog, Cir, looking for bombs. They were attached to a SEAL team and their primary duties were to sniff out trouble.

Cir retired from duty last October and now lives with Hartley, who has 10 years in the Air Force and plans to do 10 more. Right now, he’s stateside. His retired military working dog now sleeps at his feet in their North Charleston house, just like he once did in a tent in Afghanistan. There’s one big difference. They both sleep much better now.

When on patrol, a handler is required to carry his dog’s water and food. That usually adds an extra 80 pounds. The dog will seldom wear a protective vest because it is so heavy, and sniffing for bombs in an Afghan desert can take a toll. Not all of these dogs make it. Neither do their handlers. Sometimes, those that do come back are never the same, and that goes for both the canine and the security officer.

Cir is a German shepherd; Cliff Hartley is a staff sergeant. One of Hartley’s duties was to observe his partner’s body language constantly. If the dog were to get jumpy or to tuck his tail during a firefight, it could signal that he might be shutting down. These animals go through so much anxiety that they, too, exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome. If that happens, the dogs are returned stateside for other duties, but are removed from a war zone.

How strong is the bond between handler and dog? “It’s pretty tight, especially if he saves your life,” says Hartley. Cir not only saved Hartley’s life, but everybody who was behind them, more than once. When a dog finds a hidden explosive, training dictates that he sit. These days, Cir only sits when he feels like it.

Hartley has two Bronze Stars and the Navy Achievement of Valor to show for his various tours from 2010 to 2012. The last award was a result of his attachment to a SEAL unit that was ambushed.

Hartley, again, was leading the group with his dog when the fury of machine gun fire hit some members of the unit. Hartley helped patch up a SEAL member and get him to safety.

As we enjoy a day off or spend time with our friends and families today, don’t forget those who protect our freedoms. If you happen to see Hartley and Cir sitting back and taking it easy, they’re entitled.

These two have been through so much together that just being with each other in much more peaceful surroundings is all that they want or need. Sounds like a good reason to remember those working to protect our freedoms on this Labor Day. Am I barking up the right tree?

I’m just sayin’ …