Throughout the course of history, there are certain days that stand out in our memories. The emotions we felt and the historical significance echo in our minds for a lifetime. For some people, it was the shock of losing the King of Rock ‘N Roll. For others, it was the devastation of learning about President Kennedy’s assassination. But, for most of us living right now, it was the horrors that unfolded on 9/11 and the new normal we have learned to live with. Since the moment American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north tower at 8:46 am on a seemingly normal, blue-sky Tuesday morning, our lives have never been the same.
The United States and its allies spent the next decade fighting and tracking Al-Qaeda and their leader, Osama Bin Laden. On May 2nd, 2011, in a dark compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden finally answered for the terror he had caused the entire world. The raid was executed by U.S. Special Forces – an elite team of soldiers, also known as SEAL Team 6. Within this brotherhood of fearless fighters there was a dog named Cairo.
The Best Soldier To Ever Walk The Earth On Four Legs
Cairo was more than a dog. He was a one-of-a-kind, lethally trained military working dog, or MWD. Cairo’s training was unlike anything you’ve probably ever heard of. His grit and tenacity made him quite possibly the best soldier to ever walk the Earth on four legs. He was absolutely fearless and devoted to his country and the cause.
Cairo was a Belgian Malinois who was handpicked in Europe to join the U.S. Special Forces. Much like his human Navy SEAL comrades, Cairo endured training that was designed to separate the weak from the warriors. Many canine candidates quickly found out that they didn’t have the right temperament for the job. But Cairo? He soared. Approximately 20% of Navy SEAL candidates complete their training and earn the honor of wearing a trident but even fewer MWDs can say the same. Cairo was described as a “one-percenter.” His handler and dad, Will Chesney, described him as having a “freakish athletic ability” and a work ethic that seemingly had no limits.
But you see, Cairo was more than an explosive sniffing, terrorist killing machine. Sure, he could attack a heavily-armed insurgent while rocket-propelled grenades burst nearby without a second thought. But, he could also cuddle up on the couch and watch movies with children just as easily. There was something special about Cairo and his inherent ability to know when to flip the switch.
Cairo Followed Chesney Everywhere, Including Out Of Planes On A Parachute
Cairo was paired with Chesney and the two of them spent about two months training together in California. Both had already proven their abilities separately and the time had come for them to join forces. Chesney and Cairo were deployed together for the first time to FOB Sharana in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. They spent four months neutralizing targets, day after day.
Cairo was a vital member of the unit. He trudged over rocky, desert terrain and fought alongside his fellow soldiers in some of the most intense moments of the war. He jumped out of planes and repelled out of helicopters onto rocky mountainsides. There was nothing he wouldn’t do.
Cairo Nearly Lost His Life Saving His Fellow Soldiers
One particular night, Cairo was sent to try to find insurgents hiding among heavy brush and trees. He immediately scaled a half wall and went to work weaving in and out of trees, using his supersonic sense of smell to sniff out the enemy. That’s when it happened. Gunfire.
Chesney immediately began calling for Cairo to come back but there was no sign of Cairo anywhere. Bullets were now flying from both sides as Chesney desperately searched for Cairo, calling him over and over again. Eventually, Cairo appeared, slow and obviously injured. He was too weak to climb back over the wall. In a valiant effort to obey Chesney’s orders, Cairo had taken the long way around. Chesney ran towards him but right before he reached him, Cairo fell to the ground.
“I didn’t mourn. I didn’t panic. We still had a mission to accomplish, and Cairo was no longer a part of that mission. He was gone,” Chesney recalled.
A Miracle In The Midst Of Combat
It’s not often that a Navy SEAL’s instincts are wrong, but this time they were. Cairo had in fact been shot, not once but twice at point-blank range. Once in the chest and once in his leg. The medic packed his wounds just like any other soldier and a medevac was called in. Cairo and Chesney boarded the helicopter together and rushed to the nearest base where Cairo may have had some chance at survival. They slept on the floor together that night because Chesney wanted Cairo to know he wasn’t alone. He wanted to be there if Cairo took his last breath. But, Cairo wasn’t done fighting for his country. Miraculously, Cairo pulled through and Chesney was awoken the next morning by gentle kisses from his best friend and lifesaver.
After receiving life-saving surgery and a bit of metal hardware, Cairo went back to work. He never once hesitated to return to the job he loved.
Operation Neptune Spear
On May 2nd, 2011, Cairo and Chesney boarded a helicopter and headed to Abbottabad, Pakistan to execute Operation Neptune Spear. Cairo sat calmly in Chesney’s lap while the entire unit braced themselves for the mission. The members of SEAL Team 6 fully expected to never set foot on American soil alive again. They had already said their goodbyes and accepted their fate. Chesney scratched Cairo behind the ears one last time.
What happened next has been broadcast around the world and celebrated in movies that can’t even do it justice. Wearing the same, blood-soaked vest that he had previously been shot in, Cairo was one of the first soldiers to put boots (or paws) to the ground. He made his way around the perimeter sniffing for explosives before heading into the compound. Once Cairo and Chesney gave the all-clear, the rest of SEAL Team 6 breached the compound and successfully brought an end to the Al-Qaeda leader. The man who was responsible for nearly 3,000 deaths on 9/11 was finally brought to justice. It was only made possible with the help of a four-legged hero who risked his life to make sure his fellow soldiers were safe.
Retirement Was Even Sweeter With A Best Friend… And Steak
Cairo and Chesney both retired from the Navy and with mounds of paperwork, the two were finally able to be reunited. Cairo didn’t stop saving lives once he retired though.
As we know too well, many veterans suffer from the lasting physical and mental effects of combat. Chesney was no different. Cairo re-entered his life at one of his lowest points and gave him the will to trudge on through grueling mental and physical recovery. However, it quickly became apparent to Chesney that he wasn’t the only one to suffer from PTSD. Cairo, a once fearless warrior that was unphased by grenade blasts and machine guns, now paced the room and wet himself when a thunderstorm rolled in. Chesney often woke up in the middle of the night to find that Cairo had soiled his bed. He would invite Cairo into his own bed where they would cuddle together and drift off to sleep as they had so many years ago in their barracks in Afghanistan.
Cairo was always a dog filled with love and affection, despite what he was trained to do. He loved playing ball and enjoying a steak dinner with his dad and being snuck out of the military kennel to be spoiled with a night of movies on the couch and cuddles. He also loved riding around town in his doggles and helmet in the motorcycle sidecar that Chesney bought specially for Cairo. Their adventures and bond reached far beyond the realm of war.
Heroes And Best Friends Never Die, They Just Cross The Rainbow Bridge
On April 2nd, 2015 at 3:20 pm, Cairo took his last breath as his dad held his paw and told him how much he loved him. If he could spend one more day with Cairo, Chesney says they would spend it on the boat that Cairo loved, and finish the day by eating a steak dinner.
Chesney received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star for his heroism. Sadly, Cairo was never given an award despite being just as integral in the success of Operation Neptune Spear. Chesney wants the world to know about the incredible work that military working dogs do and the countless lives that they save. He wrote a book in honor of Cairo so that the world could know about the brave soldier who helped bring justice to the horrific events of 9/11 and stop Osama Bin Laden from harming the world with any more acts of terror.
Cairo’s blood-soaked vest is proudly displayed permanently at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City.
Chesney carries Cairo’s ashes with him wherever he goes. Tucked away in his backpack, in an unassuming coffee can with a pawprint, lies an American hero and Chesney’s best friend.
And if Chesney could say anything to Cairo? He said with a chuckle that he would ask him how he liked the book.
“He never knew what he had accomplished or the lives he saved, but he knew that he made people happy. And that was the most important thing to him.” -Will Chesney
No Ordinary Dog is now available for purchase. You can also follow Will Chesney for book tour information and his efforts to bring awareness to brain injuries and mental health here.
Featured Photo: Will Chesney, United States Navy