An Iceman and his best friend: An unforgettable day

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Zachary Perras
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: This is the second part of a series featuring Staff Sgt. Leonard Anderson and his military working dog, Azza.

"The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." - John Stuart Mill

He had a premonition.

The morning of his fifth mission, Staff Sgt. Leonard Anderson, 354th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, told his comrades that something did not feel right.

While on a deployment in Sperwan Ghar, Afghanistan, Anderson was to work with his military working dog, Azza, to detect improvised explosive devices. After four successful missions, he and the Army team he was deployed with planned to depart on another mission to an area known for danger - a choke point for IEDs.

A film crew with ten100 was embedded with Anderson's unit, filming the journey of military working dogs for an upcoming documentary. Although Anderson does not recollect the day, Craig Constant and Mark MacIntyre, members of that film crew, will never forget.

Constant, videographer with ten100, was told this mission would be a walk in the park - aside from the constant need for vigilance, that day should have been an easy day.

At 5 a.m., the group left their forward operating base. Everything seemed normal, but there was still something amiss.

After less than a mile from base and coming under fire once already, the group came to a path along a creek. Constant, a former Marine, said one member had spotted someone in a tree in the distance. Not long after that, a military-aged man fled on a motorcycle - a possible scout.

"Something didn't feel right," Constant said. "Azza was leading Anderson, and she went down a mud wall about 20 feet up and then turned around to come back."

As Azza was coming back to Anderson, it happened.

"I remember looking at them, and then just heat. I don't remember hitting the ground, but I remember, out of instinct, getting up," said Constant. "I was dazed, and I knew something bad had happened, but not what had happened. I remember leaves falling down, and it was just dusty - it was very surreal. At that time, I heard screaming out of nowhere."

Constant took up his camera - his instant reaction was to start filming in whatever direction the sounds were coming from. As he surveyed the area, he saw Anderson flat on his back - the handler had been hit.

"I got down on my knees next to him and put my camera down - I looked at him and I thought, 'I'm going to watch this guy bleed to death right here,'" Constant explained. "I looked down and said to him, 'Easy, buddy, easy,' and he quieted down. I was in a state of confusion - I looked down and saw [his injuries] and it clicked - tourniquet."

With the severe damage to Anderson's body, Constant had to think quickly. He and the combat medic worked on each side of Anderson's body, applying tourniquets and bandages to prevent blood loss.

"It was just an overwhelming feeling of horror and disbelief - I couldn't believe this was real," Constant recalled. "There was a second where I was almost overcome and wanted to freeze. But then I looked at him, and I thought, 'I can't.'"

At the same time, ten100 audio engineer MacIntyre watched the chaos unfold around him. Having attached a microphone to Anderson prior to the attack, he could hear every small detail.

"I was behind Craig about 5 feet - we wanted to stay a little spaced apart because we were bunching up and we didn't feel comfortable with that," MacIntyre said. "When the blast happened, it was like stereo in my head - everything went gray, dust and dirt everywhere."

The detonation stopped MacIntyre in his tracks and knocked him back. His ears ringing, he remembers thinking he had just lost everyone he was with. He heard, however, a call for help through his sound system.

"It was in stereo in my ear the whole time and I never lost audio off of Anderson - it just kept going and it was just full-blown sound in my ears," MacIntyre recollected. "I stood up and stumbled over to Craig, who was looking at Anderson. It didn't seem real - it seemed very unbelievable. But it was real and it happened. I think we all knew it could happen, but you just didn't know when."

In the midst of it all, Azza had wandered back to the devastation. She was uninjured, yet quiet - she would typically bark at any gunfire or explosions. That day, however, was different. That day, Azza did not bark.

When Azza heard her handler yell for help, she became completely fixated on him, a look of worry and concern spread across her face.

"I remember seeing Azza on the other side of [where the detonation went off] and she wasn't barking," MacIntyre said. "She [almost seemed] human. She had this look on her face like she knew what was going on, and you could see it in her."

As MacIntyre watched Anderson being patched up, a medical evacuation was called. What seemed like an eternity was roughly 10 minutes, and the helicopter arrived to take Anderson away. He could only stare on as Anderson, followed closely by Azza, was loaded onto the carrier. Then they were gone.

"The audio was still going, and I could hear all the commotion, and Anderson, and I could hear the [helicopter] lift off, and there it went. And there went Anderson and Azza," MacIntyre remembered. "From my point of view, I was still hearing the audio, and then it tapered off and clicked away. I thought, 'Is that it? Are we ever going to see them again?'"

Both Constant and MacIntyre felt a crushing sense of loss - and even guilt. With the idea that Anderson might not make it alive, the two could not comprehend what had just happened.

But as fate would have it, that day would not be the last day they saw Leonard Anderson.