Air Force MWD team saves the lives of Army Soldiers, nominated for Bronze Star

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kayla Newman
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dontarie Russ and his military working dog, Uudensi, patrolled through Najat Province, Afghanistan July 14, 2012, on a mission with U.S. Army 3rd Platoon, B Company when they began receiving small arms fire from about 200 meters south of their location, with rounds impacting within 10 yards of their position.

Without hesitation, Russ commanded Uudensi to lie down, ensuring he remained calm and didn't become a casualty, and immediately returned 75 rounds toward the enemy's position with his M4 carbine.

"It was just a reaction," recalled Russ, a 633rd Security Forces Squadron MWD handler. "I went over there with a clear mind and I knew what I had to do."

Russ's actions while in command of Uudensi allowed the company to move 200 meters westward and contain the enemy position until close air support could arrive and eliminate the adversary.

As a team, Russ and Uudensi secured a 17,400 square-mile area of responsibility by leading 17 outside-the-wire patrols and 750 hours of explosive detection during their deployment from June through October 2012. They also positively identified improvised explosive devises and indicators, allowing them to re-route their combat team and save the lives of 43 U.S. Army Soldiers.

With basic operational training the MWDs receive at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and the strong relationship built between them at Langley Air Force Base, Va., Russ and Uudensi were able to return home safely.

The pair had been a team for four months when they deployed to Forward Operating Base Masum Ghar, Afghanistan.

Uudensi, a Belgian Malinois, is a patrol explosive detection dog. Uudensi and Russ's primary mission was to detect and deter enemy combatants and find improvised explosive devices while deployed with U.S. Army 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

Although there were several isolated incidents during their deployment, the event that took place that Saturday is one that stays fresh in Russ's mind.

Russ remembers it being "an adrenaline rush."

"I don't think you come down from that type of rush," explained Russ. "There is still a presence of danger, so you have to stay on your toes and your senses remain heightened."

According to Russ, it was a deployment he will never forget because it meant the most to him.

Russ credits Uudensi with saving his life.

During one of the team's routine patrols, an ordinary shaded area under a tree appeared to be inconsequential to Russ, but Uudensi identified an IED and responded.

"When it came down to crunch time, Uudensi did his job," explained Russ. "He found an IED any of us could have stepped on. I owe part of my life to Uudensi -- he brought me back home."

Once the team returned to Langley, Russ's leadership recognized his efforts and nominated him to receive a Bronze Star.

"Russ went through the roughest experience in his life and was able to get through it and save lives in the process," explained Staff Sgt. Jonathan Bourgeois, 633rd SFS MWD trainer.

"He made it possible for Army infantry personnel to go home after their tour of duty in Afghanistan."

According to Bourgeois, Russ has used his experience in Afghanistan to keep him humble.

"I think about it all the time," explained Russ. "It was an experience that makes you. Knowing I came back after it, I think that's another accomplishment within itself."

Russ and Uudensi's experiences downrange highlight the significance of the training the MWD teams receive at their home station.

The dogs are trained to deploy and not only successfully execute the mission, but return safely with their handlers.

"Regardless of how the handlers are paired with their dogs, we make sure both handler and dog are set up for success," said Bourgeois.

After returning home Russ and Uudensi remain as a team, and continue to patrol and protect personnel at Langley AFB.