Rocky the military dog is considered an American soldier. In fact, he outranks his human handler, Army Spc. Andrew Brown.
Both were injured earlier this month in Afghanistan, and a photo of Rocky bearing a Purple Heart on his collar has since gone viral.
Rocky and Brown, 22, are both expected to recover, and are being treated in separate hospitals. Brown was transferred to Walter Reed in Washington D.C. on Friday, and Rocky will have to spend a few more days and have more surgeries at a hospital in Germany, Brown told ABC News.
The soldiers are in the 89th Military Police Brigade, and have been partners for two years; Andrew enlisted around the same time. In October, they left Fort Hood for Afghanistan and by December 3, they were in the Helmand Province in the southern part of the country, searching for explosive materials, the brigade’s public affairs officer, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Garrett, told the Killen Daily Herald.
They were searching a compound, in collaboration with Special Operations Forces, when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded. NBC News reported that they were “searching for a structure” at the time, and called the IED a roadside bomb.
Both Brown and Rocky were struck with shrapnel. Luckily, both survived the blast and were flown, together, to Kandahar. Rocky also suffered a broken leg.
Afterwards, they were taken to a military hospital in Germany, and Brown, a father of two, has since been able to come back to the U.S. and see his family. But it was while the two soldiers were in Germany that the now-viral photo of Rocky was snapped, back on December 9.
The two were allowed to recover from their wounds in the same room, side by side.
Brown said that he and the dog have both been awarded Purple Hearts. However, Sgt. Garrett tells a different story that is no less touching.
“The Army typically does not process awards for our working dogs the same way we do for our other soldiers. The Purple Heart in the photo was placed on Rocky as a sign of respect and solidarity between him and Brown during their recovery.”
To hear Brown tell it, Rocky is the leader in their partnership. From his hospital room in Washington D.C., he told ABC that he credits the dog with everything they accomplish together.
In fact, not only is the canine considered an American soldier, according to his handler, the pooch’s rank is actually one above his own.
“He does everything. I’m just really a guy with a leash. I bring him to the area and let him do his thing. If he responds, I translate that… let them know my dog got a response right here. I know the way he works, I know his change of behavior.”
On Friday before Brown flew home, the 89th Brigade posted another photo from the hospital, this one of the partners looking well and which thanked everyone for their “thoughts and prayers,” Fox News added.
Brown, who is originally from Maine, has non-life-threatening injuries, but will be checked for traumatic brain injury, which is standard procedure. He’s readying for more surgeries as Rocky preps for his own back in Germany.
As both continue to heal, Andrew said he is looking forward to being reunited. The brigade already has plans for a reunion at Fort Hood. Until then, he is confident that Rocky — ever the superior soldier — “has high spirits like I do.”
“Dogs are just resilient like that.”
[Photo by ANURAKE SINGTO-ON/Shutterstock]