Working dog and handler find healing at Fisher House

Alec Alcoser was a new father when he arrived in Afghanistan for his first deployment. Despite a reduction in combat operations there before he arrived, he found himself on constant patrols with Alex, his military working dog. A suicide bomber shattered their lives, but Fisher House was there to support them and their family as Alec spent months putting the pieces back together.

When Spc. (Ret.) Alec Alcoser reported to Fort Drum, New York, he was worried that he was too late to take an active role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The young working dog handler was told by multiple leaders that the wars had slowed down; he might not get a chance to go outside the wire when he deployed.

Sgt. 1st Class David Harrison warned him to still be prepared for anything before he deployed.

“He got into my head that if I do leave the wire,” Alec said, referring to leaving the base on a patrol, “that things could get really, really serious really, really quick.”

One piece of advice David gave Alec was, “If you’re going to get hit, get hit cheating,” by which he meant that Alec should always work hard to have the advantage if a fight broke out.

David’s warnings proved valid. While U.S. involvement in Afghanistan was reduced by 2018 when Alec deployed, plenty of our troops were still conducting daily operations. As a dog team, Alec and his dog Alex were in high demand. They were the “cheat” David was referring to. Many working dogs are selected for their ability to smell explosives, so they can literally sense hidden bombs.

And Alec wanted to do everything he could to get back home.

“The night that I actually arrived in Afghanistan, that’s when my son was born.”

After a few other missions, Alec and Alex were assigned to support a unit from the Czech Republic. He was almost always the only American on the patrol, but the Czechs valued him and Alex and made them feel like part of the team.

On August 5, 2018 the men went on an early morning patrol. Just 200 meters from the end of the patrol, about a tenth of a mile, Alec spotted a man on the path and suggested that the Afghan National Army search him. It turned out to be good call. The man was a suicide bomber. The initial explosion killed three soldiers and knocked Alec down. It also pelted Alec and Alex with shrapnel that nearly killed Alec and later cost Alex a leg. A firefight erupted moments later.

Both the man and his dog survived the firefight, but Alec was too badly injured to return to base on his own. He was medically evacuated and given ketamine in the ambulance. He woke up briefly at Bagram Air Base, but his memories are mostly blank until he woke up in Germany. He had a broken femur and a number of cuts, but he would survive. And Alex had been evacuated with him.

Alec went into a months-long recovery process. While he was at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center starting his recovery, visitors from the Pentagon would come to check on the troops. Every time, Alec asked them about Alex. He was promised that he would be re-united with his dog as soon as Alex was retired from service.

In early October, only two months after the attack, that happened. Alec attempted to stay on active duty and deploy, but the damage to his tendons was too much and he was medically retired. As Alec navigated the recovery process and began his path to medical retirement, his mom was able to stay with him thanks to Fisher House.

“My mom came to my aid and stuck with me throughout the whole recovery while I was in the hospital.”

Alec is now studying marketing in Texas where he lives just a few hours from his mom. Alex splits his time between his former handler and his mother.