Natalie Shepherd / Eyewitness News
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A Louisiana Army veteran is back home with a fellow service member that he said saw him through two tours of duty in the Middle East. They've been through a lot together, and now he said it's his mission to make sure she has a good retirement.
'I'm excited,' Veteran Staff Sgt. James Harrington said. 'It's been a long time.'
Harrington couldn't help but pace a little in the airport while waiting for a very special arrival; this was a reunion two and a half years in the making.
'We're here to reunite myself with my partner,' Harrington said, 'who's coming up for retirement. We deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and I got out of active duty in 2012.'
His comrade, as he calls her, is Ryky, a Belgian Malinois he served with in Iraq and Afghanistan. They served together for four years and two tours of active duty. 7-year-old Ryky is trained to detect explosives and Harrington was her first handler.
'And we actually went through dog school together at Laughlin Air Force Base in San Antonio,' Harrington said.
But when Harrington came back to the states, in December of 2011, Ryky was reassigned. Now that she's up for retirement, Harrington wants to give her a home.
'It's my combat in arms and fellow comrade,' Harrington said. 'We've deployed together; we've experienced a lot of things together. Even though she can't physically speak to me, we shared all of those experiences.'
And when the moment finally came, Harrington exclaimed, 'Ryky, Ryky!', as she came around the corner.
Ryky didn't immediately respond in a celebratory way, but she walked up to Harrington and sniffed him. She was understandably nervous, surrounded by veterans and cameras that were eager to see them reunite.
'It's alright, Momma,' Harrington said while petting her. 'It's alright, Momma. I'm right here.'
It's a reunion Harrington wants to see more dogs and handlers have.
'Right now,' Harrington said, 'they're labeled as equipment by the military, but we're trying to get them relabeled as veterans so they're covered just like any other veteran who retires.'
But getting back to the here and now, Harrington said Ryky probably wants some sleep, some food and 'to lay on the couch'.
And Harrington is looking forward to having some fun.
'She likes swimming,' Harrington said. 'So we'll see how she does in Lake Pontchartrain.'
Ryky and Harrington were reunited with the help of the American Humane Association and Mission K-9 Rescue. Harrington is going to Washington D.C. to speak on behalf of working military dogs and their needs in retirement. He expects 500-600 dogs who've served overseas will soon be looking for homes.
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