Seaford native and Army veteran, dog reunited after a four-year separation

By Rachel Farris

In 2011, 20 year-old Corey Williamson, a native of Seaford, spent a year in Afghanistan, bonding with and trusting his parter, Falco - a then two year-old German Shepard. After four years apart, the two best friends have finally been reunited and could not be happier.

Williamson was stationed with the Fourth Infantry Division in Colorado when the Platoon Sergeant asked if anyone would be interested in dog-handling training for deployment. Williamson applied and was chosen for the training. He flew out to Indiana, where a civilian company offered Tactical Explosive Detector Dog (TEDD) training. This program, he explained, made it easier on units so that they did not need to request a dog three days out from a mission and could have a dog as an asset on everyday patrols.

At first they gave him a female Malamute named Mindy, but she didn't work out, according to Williamson. Then he was given Falco. "It was that natural dog/handler connection between us," he confirmed. They completed a month of training in Indiana and then traveled to Arizona to complete the program.

"We were the first dog team to graduate," he said. "Out of the 20 people that came, only seven of us graduated, and we were lucky enough to be the first team to graduate of the whole class."

The duo was deployed to Afghanistan then, mostly in Kandahar and Kunar Province. Falco's job was to find hidden explosives. Together, they would sit through instructions for missions. The higher ups would tell Williamson where they were going and what they were to do, and Williamson would tell them what he needed them to do for him and his dog, as a team. "So 20 years old, first deployment, I'm a Private First Class at the time, and I'm talking to these commanders who had been in 10 - 13 yearsÉ" he said, "but it all worked out. I was the number one guy in every patrol. I was the first person in line, I was the first person coming out of wherever we went."

If they were going to a village to raid a compound, they would hike in from a distance; Falco would be worn out by the time they got there, Williamson said, so he would give him no search commands before they got there. In the approach, a 30 foot line allowed Falco to walk ahead of his partner as he worked the roads, back and forth. Williamson added that they all knew the roads like the back of their hands before they left, so they'd notice anything out of the ordinary. The duo would then do a perimeter check and search the compound for any caches or explosives.

Three days after arriving in Afghanistan, they found their first IED (improvised explosive device). "That was kind of hair raising," Williamson said. "Never been on deployment before, and here I am staring down a bomb that my dog just sat on. That was pretty nerve wracking as a young kid."

They performed two to four patrols daily, and they ran over 60 named operations. "He made my life easier because I had a best friend over there," he explained. "It was just a piece of home having a dog there, and it helped everybody else out."

When the pair finally returned home and landed in Dover, a trailer met them to pick up the dogs. At first, Williamson said, it didn't really bother him. He had just returned from combat, and he didn't care about very much. However, he finally began searching for Falco. One of Williamson's friend was reunited with his own dog, and he told Williamson about the company he'd used to locate the canine. Williamson took the advice and ended up being contacted by a woman who knew where Falco was - a family adopted him in 2014 in North Carolina. He began communicating with the family in August of last year.

He had planned to visit Falco this August, but he heard from the family again on Memorial Day this year. They told him that they wanted to give Falco back to him. He supposed they had originally intended to give him back during the August visit, but he was happy to hear the news on Memorial Day, of all days. "That meant a lot especially on that day," he said. The pair was reunited that Saturday.

At first, he said, Falco was not quite himself; he was a little mopey, and his living situation had not been the best for him. Now, Williamson said, he is like a two year-old puppy again, adding that he's as stubborn as ever though not as aggressive; he loves people and being pet.

"I suffer from PTSD," Williamson added, "so to have my best friend that went through everything that I went through back with me has really calmed me down, and he suffers from it too, so we help each other out a lot. We're inseparable. We go everywhere together. No matter where I go he's right there at my heels. It's been great having him back."

Recently, Williamson talked about military working dogs to a boy scout troop in Federalsburg. He and Falco did a demonstration, and he answered the kids' questions. Though he has no immediate plans for community talks like that, he would like to do more in the future. He would like to give working dogs and their benefits more exposure in this area, adding that they are crucial to drug issues here as well.

"These dogs save more lives than anything in war," he added. "We're fighting an invisible enemy right now; the IEDs are the main killing source that these insurgents are using on us. Canines have I think 300 million receptors in their nose, versus our six million. If we walk into a pizza shop we just smell pizza. They smell the pepperoni, the cheese, the sauce - they smell everything individually and categorize it, and they're scents they'll never forget in their entire life."

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