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Kyle Smith and his dog Bodza were more than just owner and pet – they were comrades in arms. As members of the U.S. Air Force, they had been on a security mission together in Kyrgyzstan, enduring 189 long and bitter days in the harsh climate. But despite the hardship they faced, their bond only grew stronger.

Bodza was an 11-year-old German shepherd who had worked as an explosive detection dog for the U.S. Air Force since 2006. He had helped save countless human lives by sniffing out bombs in operations in Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, and Kuwait. Smith didn’t start working with Bodza until 2012, but the two of them quickly formed a strong and lasting friendship.

Smith loved working with Bodza, saying that the dog had taught him patience as a young handler and how to understand that the job isn’t just about oneself. But it wasn’t all work for the pair. Bodza was a goofy and gentle dog, and they had plenty of time to play as well.

“He liked to bark at his own shadow, so I’d always mess with him that way – make my hand a shadow on the ground and move it,” Smith said. “I guess he thought it was a rabbit.”

When the day came for Bodza to retire, Smith didn’t hesitate to adopt him. “I took him home the same day,” he said. Bodza was even more loyal at home, following Smith around everywhere and saying good night to him every evening.

However, in the summer of 2016, Bodza was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, a progressive and incurable disease that affects a dog’s spinal cord. Smith knew how hard Bodza’s life had become and made the difficult decision to put him down.

Last week, Smith and nine of his coworkers took Bodza to the Fort Bliss Vet Clinic in El Paso, Texas. They laid a blanket on the floor and made sure that Bodza felt as comfortable as possible. Smith held Bodza as he passed away, feeling a rush of emotions that was overwhelming.

Despite the sadness of the moment, Bodza seemed happy in his last moments. “He had a smile on his face when he was getting put to sleep,” Smith said.

When Bodza finally passed away, Smith broke down, but his coworkers were there to support him. “They let me sob like a baby,” Smith said. “They pat me on the back and let me know it was going to be all right. My boss immediately went and grabbed a flag, and draped it over him and let me have a final moment.”

Smith had Bodza cremated and keeps his ashes at home, along with photos of his best friend. He also keeps Bodza’s collar on the rearview mirror of his car.

“I will never forget how loyal he was,” Smith said. “He was selfless – more than any human I’ve ever known. He’s done so much for next to nothing and did it with a smile. I miss him every day.”

Bodza may have been just a dog, but to Smith, he was so much more. He was a loyal friend, a trusted companion, and a brave soldier who had served his country with honor. Rest in peace, Bodza.