• Serviceman's best friend continues to serve in retirement

    By: JAKE KEATOR, The Daily Reflector

    Updated:
    GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) - He's jumped out of airplanes. He's sniffed out explosives. He's protected his human comrades in arms.

    Now, Staff Sgt. Agbar is an ambassador for his breed, who loves belly rubs and perks with excitement at the sound of the Star Spangled Banner.

    The 10-year old Belgian malinois, adopted by a Kinston family in 2014 after three tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army, spent Saturday (Nov. 2) afternoon at Pet Supplies Plus on Criswell Drive (in Greenville) to visit with customers and help the store's program to support retired military service dogs like him.

    Agbar served as a bomb dog with the 101st Airborne Division. During his time with the 101st, Agbar and his handler jumped from aircraft into hot zones around the country.

    Agbar and other multi-purpose canines (MPC's) work with military personnel to sniff out explosives, such as improvised explosive devices (IED's), leading to their eventual disarmament or destruction. The dogs also help protect human soldiers and hunt down threats, as demonstrated on Oct. 27 when a service dog reportedly named Conan was wounded as he chased after the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

    The dog was slightly injured by live electrical wires that were exposed after al-Baghdadi detonated his suicide vest, according to reports. The Pentagon says the dog has since returned to duty, and President Donald Trump tweeted the dog would visit the White House.

    Agbar, who was adopted by Brittany Heath and her husband Wayne, saw his share of combat, Heath said.

    "In 2014, 273 dogs came home from overseas," Heath said. "Handlers got first choice, then law enforcement got their pick and then it was open to civilians."

    Agbar is big for his breed, and he was tested for service as a police dog, Heath said, explaining that he was not suited for police work. "He just isn't a biting dog, he is strictly a bomb dog. They tried, but it just wasn't his temperament."

    Over 2,500 MPC's are currently in active duty, with 750 currently deployed overseas, according to the Oklahoma Humane Society.

    On his first night of retirement Agbar made a move that surprised Heath and proved just how loyal would be to his new family.

    "My daughter slipped and fell down the stairs," Heath said. "I saw Agbar jump off the couch ... and grab her by the shirt and pull her away. That's what they are trained to do to help soldiers. I just started crying and called my husband and said, 'You won't believe this.'"

    The American Kennel Club describes the Belgian Malinois as a confident, smart, loyal, and hard-working breed of dog, all qualities Agbar exuded during his service. Now however, Agbar enjoys his days laying on the couch, relaxing and playing with his favorite chew toys while eating leftover food. He does however still fight through issues due to his time overseas. Heath explained how Agbar suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

    "He's still so eager to work today," Heath said. "He wants to work all the time. If he sees a uniform, his chest puffs out and he thinks it's time to go, but it's like a light switch for him, he can turn it on and off. He suffers from PTSD, so low flying aircraft, the EastCare helicopters, fireworks, things like that affect him."

    With everything Agbar has done and accomplished there is still one specific thing that make Agbar so special.

    "He knows what the national anthem is, he knows it" Heath said. "When he hears it he immediately starts whining. It'll make you tear up if you know his history. Sometimes I wish he could talk so he could tell me what he's seen, but then other times I don't want to know."

    Agbar's field trip also benefited other animals, thanks to Pet Supplies Plus, manager James Dickson and his staff. As Agbar perused the many treats, toys and items in the store Dickson kept tabs. Some of Agbar's choices will be donated to animal shelters and military canine organizations.

    "We're very military oriented here," Dickson said. "We appreciate all of the work, efforts and sacrifices they make alongside the troops. We let him sniff around and see what he likes and set up a donation drive based on his preferences."

    It was not the first, nor the last time Agbar will make a public appearance. Marie Floyd, CEO, founder and event organizer of Supporting our Troops and Heroes, features Agbar and other MPC's at her annual Christmas dinner each December.

    "It's for troops that are local, can't go home, veterans and wounded warriors," Floyd said. "We are also including first responders this year as well. It's free for them to come and have a home cooked meal free of charge. I've been doing it for seven years now. The people from eastern North Carolina all the way to the mountains provide donations that allow me to continue the event."

    This year's event will be held on Dec. 14, at the Rosehill Free Will Baptist Church, in the life center, from 5-8 p.m.

    Agbar's presence is always a talking point at the event, as he brings joy to others, Floyd said.

    "It's the most wonderful gift (I can receive)," Floyd said of the responses from those who attend her dinner. "It's a healing thing for me. I'm fighting cancer, and when I can make somebody happy, our military, first responders and especially Staff Sgt. Agbar, I couldn't ask for anything more."

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    Information from: The Daily Reflector, http://www.reflector.com

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