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Posthumous Honour for Australian War Dog

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Corporal Mark Donaldson, VC, with Australian Army special operations military working dog ‘Odin’, at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, who accepted the award on behalf of Kuga.

A Military Working Dog who served with the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) in Australia has received the animals’ VC for his remarkable actions while on duty in Afghanistan, in 2011.

Special Operations Military Working Dog (SOMWD) Kuga was posthumously awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal at a special ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Kuga is the first Australian dog to receive the PDSA Dickin Medal in its 75-year history.

PDSA Director General Jan McLoughlin said “Kuga’s actions undoubtedly saved the lives of his patrol. He took on the enemy without fear, saving his comrades despite suffering serious injury, and is a thoroughly deserving recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal.”

Belgian Malinois Kuga has been posthumously recognised for his actions during Operation Slipper in the Khas Uruzgan district of Afghanistan. Kuga indicated the presence of an enemy ambush, concealed among trees alongside a river. Kuga swam into the river to apprehend the enemy and, in doing so, was shot five times. He survived and was returned home to Australia, though he died less than a year later.

Whilst in Australia on other business, the formal presentation was made by PDSA Trustee Mary Reilly to Kuga’s canine colleague, retired Military Working Dog Odin. Corporal Mark Donaldson – the recipient of the Victoria Cross for his actions in Afghanistan – received Kuga’s medal on behalf of the regiment.

The world-renowned PDSA Dickin Medal was introduced by PDSA’s founder, Maria Dickin CBE, in 1943. It is the highest award any animal can achieve while serving in military conflict.

Kuga’s Story

Canine hero: Military working dog ‘Kuga’

Kuga was born on 23 April 2007 and began his development training with the SASR in January 2008, aged eight months.

He was teamed with his handler in April 2009 and, in June 2010, they were deployed to Afghanistan on their first tour, where Kuga performed exceptionally, with his endless drive to work and courage being well recognised.

On 26 August 2011, during their second tour, Kuga and his handler were part of a Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) troop conducting a mission to capture a senior Taliban insurgent in the Khas Uruzgan district.

After landing by helicopter near a target compound, the unit began their patrol. Kuga and his handler were located next to the river. Kuga was instructed to search for concealed insurgents or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) located along the river’s edge. As the patrol moved closer to the target compound, Kuga indicated an enemy presence and moved down towards the river.

As Kuga entered the water and swam across the river to the opposite bank, he was targeted and injured by bursts of automatic fire. His handler moved into position to support Kuga while he continued to swim, undeterred, by the close-range fire. After reaching the bank, he charged towards a small tree line where his handler was able to identify the enemy’s location and witnessed an insurgent firing at Kuga at close range.

While apprehending the insurgent, Kuga was shot again, causing him to lose his grip. During the incident, Kuga was shot five times: twice in the ear, once in the toe, once in the cheek (which exited through the neck) and once in the chest, which exited the shoulder and broke his upper-left leg. Kuga also received shrapnel wounds to his lower spine.

Despite his injuries, Kuga swam back across the river when recalled by his handler, who administered emergency first aid and requested a helicopter medical evacuation for him. Kuga was subsequently treated in Afghanistan and Germany, before returning to Australia for further treatment and rehabilitation.

Kuga passed away in kennels on 24 July 2012 and although inconclusive, it was believed that his body succumbed to the stress placed upon him due to the injuries sustained in the incident. Kuga’s death is officially recorded as ‘Died of Wounds’.

Commenting on Kuga’s PDSA Dickin Medal, the charity’s Director General, Jan McLoughlin, said: “If it wasn’t for Kuga detecting the concealed enemy position, his patrol would have walked into an ambush with inevitable loss of life. He showed great skill and courage when it mattered most, despite suffering serious injury.

“For his bravery and devotion to duty on that day, we are honoured to present Kuga with the 71st PDSA Dickin Medal.”

Corporal Mark Donaldson VC accepted the award on the regiment’s behalf. Corporal Donaldson said: “Kuga’s actions that day in Afghanistan were heroic. There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that he saved lives. He just wouldn’t give up on his mates and doing his job.

“Kuga and the other military working dogs in Afghanistan saved countless lives, whether they were finding IEDs or tipping us off to an enemy presence before we’d seen them. Kuga’s PDSA Dickin Medal is for the all military working dogs who worked alongside us in Afghanistan and every day since.”

PDSA Trustee Mary Reilly made the formal presentation of Kuga’s Medal to Corporal Donaldson VC, in front of members of the SASR and the Australian Military. Mary said: “It is a huge honour to gather with Kuga’s comrades and friends to present him with this prestigious award. His story embodies everything that the medal stands for. I hope his PDSA Dickin Medal is a fitting tribute to his service and memory.”

The PDSA Dickin Medal is a large, bronze medallion bearing the words “For Gallantry” and “We Also Serve” all within a laurel wreath. The ribbon is striped green, dark brown and sky blue representing water, earth and air to symbolise the naval, land and air forces.

Kuga is the 71st recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal and the first Australian dog to receive the honour. Previously, two World War II messenger pigeons serving with the Australian signals Corps were awarded the Medal in February 1947 for their role in Pacific operations.

Other recipients of the PDSA Dickin Medal include 34 dogs (including Kuga), 32 World War II messenger pigeons, four horses and one cat. For more information about the medal and its recipients, visit www.pdsa.org.uk/chips.

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