70 dog years later, Major Edan ends her military service

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Dylan Gentile
  • 919th Special Operations Wing

During Operation Enduring Freedom, a military hospital in Afghanistan was bearing the brunt of caring for service members wounded in combat. While staff worked around the clock to save lives, they found comfort in what would become the country's first and last combat stress therapy dog.

In 2012, now retired Maj. Edan, commissioned as a military working dog into narcotics detection. Her demeanor and propensity to disregard her duties in the presence of food resulted in being relieved of her position. It wasn’t until medical staff at the hospital discovered her ability to identify patients in acute distress and provide immediate comfort that she was given a new job as Afghanistan’s only combat stress therapy dog. Edan’s newfound skills and position led her down a distinct career path from other military working dogs.      

“There were a lot of traumatic injuries with people getting critically wounded all the time, and a lot of the doctors were under extreme stress,” said Lt. Col. Michael Brasher, 2nd SOS pilot and Edan’s caretaker. “They realized Edan had a special gift, because she would go comfort the most stressed people specifically.”

After completing additional training and heading into duty, she became well-known across  Kandahar Airfield for her position as the lone combat stress therapy dog. Edan made her rounds at the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation center and to various workplaces on base. She flew frequently to support service members at Bagram Air Base, Camp Bastion, Camp Dwyer and forward operating bases across the country.

“I met Edan while I was deployed to Bagram, and it felt so nice to pet her ears and talk to her,” said Tech. Sgt. Ashli Nelson, 2nd SOS sensor operator. “She was definitely great for morale.”

Edan’s service became very popular, landing her in publications such as Time Magazine and The Atlantic. Public affairs agencies across multiple branches produced stories about her exploits.

“All my friends I deployed with would show me pictures of her and we’d all talk about meeting her,” said Nelson. “She’s kind of a celebrity, I think anyone that was deployed to Bagram around that time knows her.”

In 2017, she met her caretaker, Brasher, while on duty at an MQ-9 Reaper compound in Afghanistan. Brasher checked her out of the kennels and brought her to their compound where the operators would play with and feed her.

“A the 2 SOS Operation Center, crewmembers would all lay on the floor with her, she was a small brown dot in a sea of flight suits,” said Brasher. “They would always tell me having Edan around made working so much better and they looked forward to their jobs”

After two more years of supporting service members around Afghanistan, Maj. Edan retired from her active-duty career when Brasher took her home to Florida.

Edan served alongside Brasher at the 2nd SOS for three more years using her unique skills to identify members feeling stressed.

“I’ve witnessed her picking up on stress in people over and over again,” said Brasher. “I was talking to this very outgoing and gregarious member, but she started licking his palm and I knew something was going on.”

Edan has multiple ways to indicate someone’s stress level. When an Airman is experiencing minor stress, Edan will place her head on them. If they are undergoing chronic stress or illness, she will lay next to them or at their feet. If a member is going through acute distress, she will lick the palm of their hand.

On several occasions, Edan served as an indicator to larger issues in member’s lives by licking their palms. She was able to identify an Airman that was considering self-harm, allowing their wingmen and leadership to help with resiliency and mental health resources.

“She’s most definitely done her job,” said Nelson. “Edan has done at least her full 20 in dog years, and I’ve really appreciated having her and Brasher at the squadron.”

While Edan is putting her military service behind her, in her free time she volunteers at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Orlando. This service landed her a photo on the wall at the Orlando Mission BBQ adorned with her iconic therapy dog name tape.

“I love her to death and am extremely proud of her,” said Brasher. “She’s brought a lot of joy and love to people over the years.”

Brasher and Edan retired together at a ceremony on Jan. 20th, 2023, where they both received certificates of appreciation for their service and congratulatory words from Col. Jason Grandy, 919th Special Operations Wing commander.

 Although the 919th SOW must bid a farewell to their keenest canine, she will spend her retirement mostly catching sticks, going on walks, and swimming according to Brasher.