Man's best friend is no stranger to the battlefield. Throughout history, dogs have played an important role in military operations.In Afghanistan, military working dogs serve alongside their handlers, sniffing out IEDs and carrying out human tracking missions. These dogs are responsible for saving lives and more often than not, they are forgotten heroes.
I was so honored to photograph the homecoming of Joey and his working dog Thor. The location of this homecoming was a familiar one, but the events that unfolded were so very unique and special. I waited beside Joey's parents, his childhood friend Jaime, and his friend Nick, a former Marine. Before Joey and his fellow dog handlers arrived, the kennel pulled into the parade deck and I watched Joey's mom meet Thor for the first time. A steel barrier separated them, but it was an emotional meeting. Handlers build close relationships with their dogs, and Thor was now considered a part of the family-- and a hero for keeping so many Marines safe in a war zone.
When Joey and his fellow Marines finally did arrive, I couldn't help but cry right alongside his mom and Jaime. Lucky for me, I got to hide behind my camera. I could feel the elation and relief flooding the atmosphere. From my vantage point, I captured the sweetest reunion between a mother and her child. Her baby was finally home-- and in one piece. Oh, what a feeling.
And then it was Thor's turn for some love. And boy did he get lots of it. Joey walked to the kennel and unloaded a smiling pup. I'm not a pet owner myself, so I'm always so surprised when I can clearly see emotion smeared across a dogs face. Wow- Thor was ecstatic. He and Joey looked every bit the part of best buddies. All around the Marines introduced their families to their dedicated working dogs. It was such an amazing experience to be a part of.
Before long it was time for Joey to say good-bye to Thor. We all watched as the two made their way back to the kennel. Thor was reluctant, forcing Joey to pick him up and place him back into the carrier. It was a brief farewell, but we could all see Joey was doing his best to fight his emotions. It must be painfully difficult to part ways with your buddy who you've spent everyday with for several months. And not just ordinary days full of playtime and fun. Every day these two spent together was full of challenges and uncertainty. Thor and Joey relied on each other to keep not only the other safe, but all Marines. It was their training and focus that brought them home alive, not a small feat since their jobs are immensely dangerous. I'm happy to report that Joey has since started the application process to adopt Thor. My fingers (and toes and eyes) are crossed that everything works out.
I am so grateful to have photographed this reunion and I want to thank Miss Jaime for the opportunity. She's also a photographer and it was exciting that she trusted me to document this awesome day (her Facebook page HERE).
And now, finally, here are 90+ of my favorite photos from Joey and Thor's homecoming :) Enjoy!