Staff Sgt. Aaron Escalante, 355th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, was one of four to receive the Hero of the Year award at the fifth annual Tucson observance of Heroes Day, Oct. 18.
Sergeant Escalante and Mushe, 355th SFS military working dog, are being honored by the city of Tucson for heroic work during their deployment. Sergeant Escalante and Mushe deployed to the Ozra district of eastern Afghanistan from October 2011 to May 2012. While deployed, they assessed an Afghani terrorist operation site, detecting an arsenal of weapons and hidden explosives. They secured the site and suspended terrorist operations.
“I was on a joint expeditionary tasking,” Escalante said. “I was attached with an Army unit out of Fort Bragg, CA. No units had been in the area for about eight months. After getting intelligence that there was a possible weapons cache, we went to the scene. We arrived at three in the morning and waited for the sun to come up. We hit the objective and once Mushe found their stash, they knew we were taking all their weapons.”
At home-station, military working dog handlers are responsible for working the roads, conducting building and vehicle searches, and training their dogs.
“Depending on where you deploy, the job you perform could be very different,” Escalante said. “If you deploy to Ali Asalim, Kuwait, it’s basically the same duties as a state-side base. I was in Afghanistan, where the job it completely different. You’re outside in the villages, always the point man in front, because of the dog. Anywhere I deploy, Mushe comes with me.”
Sergeant Escalante is the first military member to be honored with Tucson’s Hero of the Year award.
“I was just doing my job,” Escalante said. “I didn’t think it was this big of an accomplishment, but it feels nice to be recognized by the city for doing my duty.”