Remembering Four-legged Warrior

Department of Defence

June 7 is National Military Working Dog Day, when Defence honours the loyalty and commitment of four-legged friends who’ve served alongside the ADF.

Most soldiers have a yarn or two to spin about Flo Joe the kelpie-cross bomb sniffer.

She was one of the much loved and respected soldiers deployed on Mentoring Task Force-3 in 2012.

There was the time she tried to herd an Afghan farmer’s goats, and the time she freaked out on seeing her first camel.

She was paired with combat engineer then-Sapper Ian Moss shortly after he finished his dog-handler’s course.

Throughout the ADF’s involvement in Afghanistan, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were a constant threat.

Flo Joe was one of the many dogs sniffing out IEDs, making sure Australia’s soldiers came home.

They also located weapon caches, and the now Sergeant Moss said Flo Joe didn’t only find Taliban ones.

“We were doing a patrol search and she was super interested in a fallen-over brick wall,” Sergeant Moss said.

“She found a mortar tube from American forces left years before, along with a stack of ammunition and radios.”

Flo Joe also proved just as popular when it was tools-down, bringing warmth to anyone she met.

“I asked if anyone had seen Flo Joe, and the one of the guys looked at me, grinned and pulled back his sleeping bag and she’d been up there snuggling with him,” Sergeant Moss said.

After coming home, Flo Joe put her paws up after completing her fourth Afghanistan rotation and was made mascot of the North Queensland Sappers Association.

Flo Joe died in 2014, and her resting place simply reads ‘Our Mascot, Our Memory’.

“I miss her every day. I’ve got a beautiful painting of her hanging in my house,” Sergeant Moss said.

The painting came about when then members of his section worked with a local artist, who produced a painting from one of the pictures the lead vehicle driver, Trooper David Nicholson, took.

In another tribute, the Sappers Association paid for a headstone that is now displayed in front of Townsville RSL.

They say there is no stronger bond between handler and dog, and the joy on the dog’s face is only matched by that on the handler’s after they finish training.

“I miss her every day. I’ve got a beautiful painting of her hanging in my house.”

Flo Joe was a working dog from rural NSW, who was adopted and given a second chance at life as an explosive detection dog, similar to many military dogs that are recruited from local pounds and breeding programs.

On arrival at the Explosive Detection Dog School at Holsworthy Barracks, they are put through suitability testing to ensure they are fit for explosives detection training.

They are then matched with a handler to start the initial course, in which both must pass assessments together.

They must find explosives in numerous environments while being desensitised to working around helicopters, armoured vehicles and gunfire.

Defence uses mixed breeds, labradors and kelpies for explosive detection, with 35 per cent coming through the adoption process.

The school features custom-built facilities including a K9 swimming pool and obstacle course.

Not all dogs naturally know how to swim or are able to swim effectively, so the pool helps build the dogs’ confidence.

Sergeant Moss is now chief instructor at the school, ensuring all dogs are trained to a standard that allows them to integrate seamlessly into a combat engineer regiment.

“I genuinely love teaching. I find it quite rewarding to be able to train a dog team that goes and causes a positive effect,” Sergeant Moss said.

“Especially with the adopted dogs, it gives them a second opportunity at a great life where they can thrive.”

The school has trained 289 dogs since opening in 1981. A further 16 are expected to pass certification this year. There are currently 24 dog-handler teams in combat engineering regiments across Army.

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