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MWD handler earns AFCAM for heroism during firefight

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Wilson, 366th SFS military working dog handler, and his dog Troll take a break after a village clearing operation in June 2012. Wilson and Troll primarily worked throughout the Kandahar province of Afghanistan assisting coalition forces with explosives detection assistance. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Wilson, 366th SFS military working dog handler, and his dog Troll take a break after a village clearing operation in June 2012. Wilson and Troll primarily worked throughout the Kandahar province of Afghanistan assisting coalition forces with explosives detection assistance. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Wilson, 366th SFS military working dog handler, and his dog Troll pause for a photo before heading out on a mission in the Kandahar Province during June 2012. The team led the Joint Task Force and Afghan National Army Soldiers through more than two miles of improvised explosive device infested poppy fields and extremely rough terrain in order to safely reach their final objective. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Wilson, 366th SFS military working dog handler, and his dog Troll pause for a photo before heading out on a mission in the Kandahar Province during June 2012. The team led the Joint Task Force and Afghan National Army Soldiers through more than two miles of improvised explosive device infested poppy fields and extremely rough terrain in order to safely reach their final objective. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Ryan Bodge, 366th Security Forces Squadron commander awards Staff Sgt. Robert Wilson, 366th SFS military working dog handler, the Air Force Combat Action Medal Feb. 25, 2013, at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. Wilson received the medal for his actions while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Ryan Bodge, 366th Security Forces Squadron commander awards Staff Sgt. Robert Wilson, 366th SFS military working dog handler, the Air Force Combat Action Medal Feb. 25, 2013, at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. Wilson received the medal for his actions while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (Courtesy photo)

Military Working Dog Troll waits for his turn during a demonstration for a local Boy Scout troops April 1, 2013, at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. Troll recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan and is scheduled to deploy again soon. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Military Working Dog Troll waits for his turn during a demonstration for a local Boy Scout troops April 1, 2013, at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. Troll recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan and is scheduled to deploy again soon. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- The helicopter lands in a small poppy field under the cover of darkness and a figure emerges from it with his four-legged companion by his side.

Even though it's the middle of the night, Staff Sgt. Robert Wilson and his military working dog Troll, quickly begin to sweep the area for threats while the other members of the task force file out -- then the chopper is gone.

This was day one of what would become a four-day mission, testing the skill, resolve and training of one unique MWD team.

"Our primary purpose while conducting the air assault mission was explosives detection assistance while my Army counterparts were setting up a police station on the outskirts of a village," said Staff Sgt. Robert Wilson, 366th Security Forces Squadron MWD handler. "Taliban insurgents had been terrorizing locals in that area for months so we had to get in there and help those people. Troll and I were responsible for getting the ground elements where they needed to be safely, so they were able to engage enemy positions as well as clearing areas for supply drops and evacuations."

The team led the Joint Task Force and Afghan National Army Soldiers through more than two miles of improvised explosive device infested poppy fields and extremely rough terrain in order to safely reach their final objective.

"While moving through the fields toward our objective, Troll responded to areas where there were explosives buried so we were forced to change our route multiple times," said Wilson. "Just before dawn we arrived in a suitable location and set up a strong point."

Next, the decision was made to conduct a raid on a compound which intelligence suggested had explosives, weapons, enemy-intelligence as well as two high-value targets.

"As we approached the building we immediately began taking fire from the enemy," said Wilson. "We returned fire and continued to raid the building. Once inside, Troll responded to an explosive device which we quickly secured along with everything else."

During this extensive search, Troll showed aggressive interest in an area under a mattress which revealed a hidden compartment where the two high-value targets were hiding and a weapons cache containing six AK-47 assault rifles, nine pressure plates and 20 pounds of homemade explosives.

"After the explosive ordnance disposal guys showed up we went outside to conduct an exterior search with a fellow coalition member," said Wilson. "All of a sudden he was struck in the chest by a bullet from an enemy sniper. I immediately regained control of Troll and pulled the guy to a safe spot clear of the sniper. Another Soldier came and helped me get him inside so the medics could begin treatment."

With injured personnel needing immediate medical evacuation, Wilson and Troll now were responsible for clearing a landing zone for the helicopter.

"Our tactical air controllers called for medical evacuation for the guy who was hit so we went back outside with a four-person security element and immediately we came under fire," said Wilson. "We could tell it was a two or three person group attacking us. Troll and I ran 50-meters to the edge of the compound and began clearing the area while the security element engaged the insurgents.

"As much as I wanted to engage the enemy personally, my role was to utilize Troll and clear the explosives from the area which were threatening our forces," he continued.

Heavy small-arms fire, rocket propelled grenades and sniper fire made the tactical search of a nearby field extremely dangerous for the MWD team.

"The fire-fight was getting intense-- a few times I clearly remember rounds impacting between Troll and I or snapping through the air by our heads," said Wilson. "Those situations are difficult because I need to help get the casualty out but at the same time, keeping Troll safe is one of my primary concerns as a handler. He is such a valuable asset in keeping the entire team safe.

"For any handler this kind of mission is exactly what we want to be out supporting," he continued. "It's really the true test of being able to go out and utilize our dog to bring people home safe."

After approximately two hours of harassing fire, the injured had been evacuated and the fight finally ended.

"I found out the firefight only lasted a couple of hours but it seemed like it took a lifetime," said Wilson. "It's an intense and dynamic situation where a lot is going on. There's gunfire all around, people are running and screaming, helicopters are flying in and close-air support aircraft are dropping rounds nearby and you realize; this is real and I have a job to do."

That kind of responsibility and dedication to mission success was noticed by 366th SFS leadership upon Wilson's return to MHAFB.

"Wilson is the kind of noncommissioned officer whom you can give any task and know it will get done right, the first time, ahead of time, every-time," said Chief Master Sgt. Chris Bostrom, 366th SFS security forces manager. "He cares deeply about his unit and has a passion for the MWD section. We are all proud of him and MWD Troll and are glad to see them get the recognition they deserve."

Of course, Wilson himself doesn't think he deserves recognition.

"I'm honored to receive the Air Force Combat Action Medal but I realize that I fell back on my training and just did my part to make the mission a success," said Wilson. "I'm glad we were able to keep the other members of the task force safe and get those injured personnel evacuated quickly."