Every night, Staff Sgt. Ann Pitt and her dog, Buddy, went out on patrol, looking for explosives hidden outside their Air Force base in southern Iraq.
"It's very spooky," said the 36-year-old Town of Tonawanda woman, who came home on leave Aug. 30. "They hide their explosives outside the base for future use. The K-9 section prevented over 60 people from gaining access to the base during the six months we were there."
Pitt leaves today for South Dakota, to be reunited with Buddy and to await orders for their return to Iraq next year. Last February, Pitt and her 8-year-old Belgian Malinois working dog flew from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota to Nasiryah in southern Iraq.
"I miss him terribly," she said of Buddy. "We've never been apart this long. . . . He's very protective of me. I let all the guys know that they can't walk up to me from behind -- he did go after a few of them."
The "guys" are the eight members of the two fire teams that protected Pitt and Buddy during their nightly rounds outside Ali base near Nasiryah, where the 28th Security Forces Squadron is stationed.
A graduate of Kenmore West High School, Pitt has a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Maryland and has been in the Air Force for 10 years. She had earlier assignments in Germany and South Korea.
Before teaming up with Pitt, Buddy already had been to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, sniffing for explosives.
"He doesn't know he's looking for something that may hurt him," Pitt said. "He has no idea."
In Iraq, Pitt and Buddy climbed into a Humvee in the middle of the night and went on a combat patrol with two fire teams protecting them. After the fire teams set up a security zone, she and her dog got out of the Humvee and searched for individuals, weapons and explosives. The two also worked vehicle checkpoints.
"We searched every vehicle that came on the base," she said. "But we would stay in the background. They never wanted to show the dog any more than they had to. One, dogs aren't liked over there -- it's a Muslim thing. And two, you don't know who's a friend or who's an enemy, and dogs are a huge target because of their capabilities."
And three, this dog is being handled by a woman in a Muslim country.