When Cpl. Byung “BK” Kang was on his second deployment to Afghanistan with the U.S. Marine Corps., he met his would-be best friend – a Labrador named Blue.
The dog has saved his platoon’s lives so many times, he’s already lost count. The duo went on over 300 combat missions throughout Byung’s time in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012. Blue was an indispensable part of the team, as she is an expert at detecting improvised explosive devices (IED). In fact, she’s so good at her job that she found one on her first mission.
“That IED could have taken a couple of our guys out,” Byung told TODAY. “So from there, Blue started getting trust and the respect of my platoon.”
As Blue’s handler, Byung could identify the dog’s body language and know when she wanted to investigate a potential IED. During his deployment, he’d let her run ahead of the group, which is composed of anywhere from four to 60 Marines, medical specialists, and Navy corpsmen. If she detected an explosive, Blue would let him know by lying down. After that, Byung would call her back and give her a reward: a toy she can play with.
Sometimes, the emergency ordnance disposal technicians had time to confirm the bomb’s presence and work to dismantle it. Other times, they’d take a step back for a security halt and get attacked, which compels them to find a different route.
“Since we knew Blue is effective, it was almost impossible for a squad or a platoon to go out without Blue,” Byung said. “Sometimes we went on three patrols per day and by the time we’d get back we’re all exhausted because we’ve been walking miles and miles in over a hundred degrees of heat in Afghanistan. So we did our best. Every chance, we tried to go out to possibly save the Marines and sailors.”
Byung, 31, felt incredibly grateful to the dog for saving their lives, so he made a promise to her one night.
“I told her, ‘What you’ve done for me and my guys over here in Afghanistan, we cannot pay back. So I’m going to give you a good home where you can cuddle all day, not worrying about going to war and finding bombs.'” he recalled.
After their deployment ended, Blue was reassigned elsewhere, but Byung was determined to make good on his word. In fact, one of the first conversations he had with his future wife, Wendy, herself a Marine veteran, was about his plan of adopting Blue once she’s retired.
Wendy knew how much Blue meant to Byung, so she reached out to other female Marines to locate her and adopt her once she has retired from service. From the stories she heard, Wendy knew that the military dog is one reason Byung is alive.
Finally, after her seven-year military service ended in November 2018, Blue was back in his Byung’s arms as the newest member of the Kang household!
Now, the 11-year-old dog is enjoying her retirement in Lawrenceville, Georgia, where she lives with the Kangs’ two sons, five dogs, and two cats. Her favorite thing to do is to cuddle.
Blue had a cancer scare earlier this year. Thankfully, the mass in her mouth was benign. The experience, however, inspired Wendy and Byung to submit an application to the 2020 American Humane Hero Dog Awards. Now, Blue is a semifinalist in the military dogs category of the contest. She has also received an award from The United States War Dogs Association for her military service.
No matter how many awards she wins, Byung will forever see Blue the way he always has – his hero.
“These working dogs, they will give up their life for us,” he said. “So we should be thankful to them and respect them and above all, trust the dog because dogs will not lie.”
Byung’s statement couldn’t be more accurate. Military dogs keep us safe, and they all deserve our honor and love!