It’s said that the Navy SEALs will leave no man behind, and SEAL dog Chopper proves the canine members of this elite military force are just as loyal as the humans they assist. This 10-year-old German Shepherd has stayed by the side of former Navy SEAL Trevor Maroshek through training, combat, and now, retirement. Chopper’s brave actions helped save his fellow Special Forces team members in Afghanistan, and now his work as a therapy dog is making an impact on home soil. This month, Chopper and his handler will be celebrated as the subjects of a Smithsonian Channel TV special, SEAL Dog.
“We both kind of saved each other’s lives overseas, and then coming out of the military, it’s like he saved my life again,” Maroshek tells Dogster.
Maroshek was instrumental in developing the first canine combat unit for the Navy SEALs in 2007. As a First Class Special Warfare Operator, Maroshek traveled all the way to the Czech Republic to find the perfect dog for Navy SEAL training. Chopper (who was specifically bred for police or military work) was just 1 year and eight months old when Maroshek first laid eyes on him, but the young dog was the best of the bunch, and Maroshek knew this scrappy pup had the potential to be a future SEAL dog.
“There were two other dogs, a Dutch Shepherd and a Belgian Malinois, and there was Chopper,” Maroshek recalls. “He looked like the scariest dog I had ever seen in my life because he’s all black, and he was kind of spinning, trying to bite the air, basically.”
“Knowing the type of job that we do, I figured I want the biggest, meanest-looking dog,” he explains, adding that he thought Chopper’s all black coat would be beneficial for working at night.
After selecting Chopper, Maroshek got to work training him. He needed his new dog to be combat ready — prepared to run, fly, parachute, swim, and sense danger just like the rest of the SEALs. Maroshek’s training regime included things like rock climbing and rappeling, as well as preparing for sniper missions and target takedowns.
Historically, most dogs in military positions have been trained to do one thing very well, but Maroshek and his colleagues trained Chopper and other SEAL dogs to be experts in explosive detection, tracking, search and rescue, laser target acquisition, and bite work.
“We went to some of the best training in the world and picked the parts that worked for us — that’s why we were actually labeled as the multipurpose canine unit,” Maroshek explains.
The extensive training results in a shared so-called “sixth sense” between the canine and handler, which allows them to transition to non-verbal commands that can be used even in pitch-black conditions. Maroshek describes the sixth sense as the dog becoming part of the handler, who is constantly aware of what the dog is doing.
“It’s not something that happens overnight. It takes about at least a year,” he says. “I was with Chopper every day, all day, 24/7.”
Chopper’s intensive education paid off many times, including one particular day when he helped save the lives of more than a dozen Special Forces team members in Afghanistan. The SEALs got a tip that Taliban soldiers had been seen near the Special Forces base, so Chopper, Maroshek, and another team member set off to find the enemy. After coming across a still-warm motorcycle, Maroshek gave Chopper the signal to complete an area search, and the dog was off into the bushes on a mission.
“He came up on odor and immediately engaged with multiple guys simultaneously,” says Maroshek. “They were postured with AK-47s, explosives. The whole nine yards.”
According to Maroshek, the men Chopper tracked were equipped with radios that only the leadership in the Taliban carried.
“In retrospect, you look at it and it’s just like — wow — we would have been dead if Chopper didn’t find those guys,” says Maroshek, who (along with other team members) quickly caught up with Chopper. “He just mixed them up enough that we could get the drop on them.”
Following Maroshek’s last tour of duty in Afghanistan, Chopper continued to be a hero to the human who trained him. After a decade of combat, Maroshek found himself not only dealing with the effects of two traumatic brain injuries, but also with post-traumatic stress.
“After my last deployment, I came home and was feeling overwhelmed,” he explains, adding that having Chopper by his side was a great cushion during his recovery. “He came with me to a hospital for more than a month.”
Chopper was there for his handler as both an emotional support/therapy dog and as a service dog to assist physically, as Maroshek has issues with his equilibrium.
Maroshek’s experience of retiring with Chopper inspired him to create the Seal Dog Foundation, a nonprofit that provides support to veterans and their families. Through the Seal Dog Foundation, Maroshek places therapy dogs like Chopper with warriors as they transition to civilian life.
“He’s really changed my life,” says Maroshek. “He’s kind of an angel.”
SEAL Dog premieres on Veterans Day, Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on the Smithsonian Channel.
Read more interviews on Dogster:
About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.