Killed in anti-terror op, Army dog Axel gets gallantry award

A two-year-old Army dog named Axel who was killed in the line of duty in Jammu and Kashmir on July 30 while taking part in a search operation with a Rashtriya Rifles Battalion has been posthumously awarded the gallantry award Mention-in-Despatches.

In recent years this would be the highest gallantry award that an Army Dog has received for services rendered in Counter Insurgency operations. Appreciation awards such as Chief of Army Staff Commendation Card and Vice Chief of Army Staff Commendation Card, which lie below gallantry awards like Mention-in-Despatch, have been commonly awarded to Army dogs for their excellence in duty in counter insurgency operations.

The dog handlers, regular Army soldiers, are eligible for the gallantry medals and have been awarded Shaurya Chakra and Sena Medal for gallantry while taking part in operations with their dogs. Mention-in-Despatches is also a gallantry award which is given in war time actions and in counter insurgency operations for services rendered beyond the call of duty.

Axel was serving in the 26 Army Dog Unit in the Kashmir valley and was deployed in a search mission during an anti-terror operation being carried out by the 29 Rashtriya Rifles. While he was clearing the rooms where suspected terrorists were holed up, one of the terrorists in hiding fired at him leading to fatal injuries. A subsequent post mortem of Axel conducted at the 54 Army Veterinary Hospital revealed that he had more than ten bullet wounds and a fracture of the femur.
Axel was honoured at a ceremony held by HQs 10 Sector Rashtriya Rifles where wreaths were laid by the General Officer Commanding Kilo Force of Rashtriya Rifles and other senior officers. He was later buried in the unit grounds of 26 Army Dog Unit.

In a statement made in the Parliament in 2019, the Minister of State for Defence had revealed that the Army had 25 full dog units and two half units. A full dog unit comprises 24 dogs and a half unit has 12 of them.

The Indian Army has various breeds of dogs in its dog units. These include Labradors, German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Great Mountain Swiss Dogs. Axel was reportedly a Belgian Malinois breed dog.

There are a variety of duties which are performed by Army Dogs and these include guard duty, patrolling, sniffing explosives including Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), mine detection, sniffing contraband items including drugs, assaulting potential targets, avalanche debris detection as well as participating in search operations to locate hiding fugitives and terrorists. Each Army Dog has a dog handler with him who is responsible for the well-being of the dog as also to guide it through the various tasks that he is to perform.

In the United Kingdom, the highest award for animals in military or police service is the PDSA Dickin Medal. It was instituted in 1943 by Maria Dickin, founder of People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) for any animal displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while serving with British armed forces or civil emergency services. The bronze Dickin Medal is embossed with words ‘For Gallantry” on one side and “We Also Serve” on the other.

In the US, there is a Medal of Bravery which is awarded to animals and has been instituted in 2019. The US also has a K-9 Medal of courage which has been instituted by the American Humane Association.

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