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WINNERS 2017

Even in a regiment of brave, highly-trained soldiers, Sam the cocker spaniel stood out for his exceptional skills and fearlessness.

sam1The seven-year-old dog has saved countless lives on the battlefield with his ability to sniff out and find landmines and other explosives, before they are a danger to troops.

And even a serious injury while on his first tour to Afghanistan didn't stop him faithfully carrying out his duties and proving himself as one of the Army's best ever canines.

When he's not on the frontline, meanwhile, the affectionate dog has helped many soldiers recover from their own injuries, by spending time in the medical centre and helping boost recovering soldiers' morale.

Sam started life in the military aged two in January 2012 and after completing his training was sent to Germany, where he worked with 103 Squadron, before moving to 105 Squadron where he has remained.

The dog, who belongs to the 1st Military Working Dog Regiment, has been deployed on three tours to Afghanistan, where he helped sniff out explosives and identify enemy hideouts.

It was during his first tour in October 2013 that Sam fell 30ft down a well on a search operation and broke his foot.

He was immediately evacuated to Camp Bastion where he was treated, then moved back to the UK for recovery and rehabilitation.

But the traumatic experience did not put him off, and six months later he was already well enough to work again, going on to become the Army's best explosive detection dog.

In September 2014, Sam took part in Operation Ismay, helping to secure the NATO summit near Cardiff by searching areas and buildings as part of an effort involving 9,000 policemen.

Due to Sam's outstanding detection abilities, he return to Afghanistan on two further tours, in October 2015 for four months and November 2016 for six months.

During these campaigns, he sniffed out illegal drugs as well as explosives and conducted countless searches, ensuring the safety of UK and foreign military personnel.

During his down-time Sam would often visit injured soldiers in the medical centre, winning many friends as he helped cheer up recovering servicemen and women.

Sam is well known in 105 Sqn and throughout the Regiment. He is small dog with bags of character and a drive for searching to match.

Lieutenant Colonel Neil Lakin, commanding officer of the 1st Military Working Dog Regiment, explained that each dog is paired with a specially selected and trained handler who together form a "close-knit, highly-skilled team".

He said: "Our teams may be employed to search areas, buildings, cars or routes for explosives or weapons in order to ensure the safe passage of British or allied troops, or indeed the local population.

"They may also be employed to protect military bases and patrolling troops, indicate the presence of enemy troops, track the enemy and tackle an enemy threat in open areas or enclosed spaces such as rooms or buildings.

"The handlers care for every element of the dog’s husbandry and train together on a daily basis, forging exceptionally strong bonds between man and dog.

"It is this loyalty between dog and handler which can overcome all else to save lives, and underpins their ability to achieve the most amazing feats of detection and protection."

Of Sam, he said that "despite the ordeal of falling from such a great height and becoming injured, he has bounced back and proven himself to be one of our most valued assets."

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