Australian Army special operations soldier Sergeant ‘J’ with his military working dog ‘Kuga’ on a Special Operations Task Group patrol in Afghanistan. *** Local Caption *** Australian Army special operations military working dog ‘Kuga’ from the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) was awarded the Dickin Medal for gallantry by British charity the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals in a ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on Friday, 26 October 2018. Kuga, a Belgian Malinois breed, was awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal for his actions during a Special Operations Task Group patrol in Uruzgan province, southern Afghanistan, on 26 August 2011. Kuga, who was shot five times during his PDSA Dickin Medal action, served with SASR from 2008 until his death from wounds in 2012. The PDSA Dickin Medal was created in 1943 to honour the work of animals in war. It is awarded to animals showing conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Commonwealth armed services or civil defence units. The PDSA Dickin Medal is colloquially referred to as the ‘Victoria Cross for Animals’. Kuga is the first Australian dog and the first Australian animal since World War II to be awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal. SASR is a key component of Special Operations Command, which is tasked to provide special operations capability in support of Australia’s national interests.

Meet Kuga. At eight months old he began training with the Australian Special Air Service Regiment and in 2010, he was deployed to Afghanistan with his handler for his first tour.

On 26 August 2011, during their second tour, he 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.

Photo Credit: Commonwealth of Australia 2018

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 then 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.

Photo Credit: Commonwealth of Australia 2018

As he 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 him while Kuga 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, the brave Belgian Malinois 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.

Sadly, Kuga passed away in kennels less than a year later 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’.

Today he was posthumously awarded the equivalent of the animals Victoria Cross by the PDSA for his remarkable and brave actions during his mission to capture a senior Taliban insurgent. He is the first Australian dog to receive the accolade.

Corporal Mark Donaldson VC accepted the award on the regiment’s behalf alongside Australian Army special operations military working dog, Odin.

Photo Credit: Commonwealth of Australia 2018

On receiving the award, he 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.”

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