Less than a month after the birth of his first daughter, U.S. Air Force Sgt. Adam Wylie was shipped back overseas.
It was 2012, and Wylie was sent on a two-year tour of duty to Osan Air Base in South Korea while his wife stayed in the States to raise their newborn, Chloe.
Most service members are aware they could be separated from their family for a time. But that doesn't make it easier when it actually happens — especially not when the assignment comes at such a crucial time.
Fortunately, Wylie made a friend in South Korea who helped to ease the transition: a 4-year-old Belgian Malinois named Emra.
"Emra was one of the first individuals I came into contact with," Wylie told Cincinnati.com.
She was assigned to help Wylie on patrol duty around the base. But he relied on her for more than just tactical support during the arduous 12-hour shifts they shared together. "I see Emra as a person," he said. "(We have) a deep emotional bond that can’t be touched."
"She was also the one I looked to for emotional support with my family being so far away."
Wylie and Emra grew closer and closer as they staked out listening posts to fend off enemy incursions from the North. They were also responsible for conducting security sweeps for important U.S. officials.
One of Wylie's fondest memories of their time together was during a visit from Vice President Joe Biden.
After sniffing around the motorcade, Emra leaped into the front seat of Biden's vehicle and couldn't stop hitting the car horn. "Some of the agents were a little upset," he recalled with a laugh. "But at the same time they knew, it's still an animal; they're going to do whatever they want."
Then after two years, Wylie was transferred back to the U.S.
The bright side was that he was reunited with his family. But it also unfortunately meant leaving Emra behind in South Korea.
This was standard protocol and something Wiley had expected; as a service dog, Emra's duty was to the base and not to one person. But that didn't make the separation any easier. "She was one of the longest working relationships I had," Wiley said.
His family had the chance to meet his canine companion during a visit to South Korea, and they were able to see firsthand how strong the bond was between Wylie and Emra. They were able to watch the pair train together, and they even got to play with her and feed her when she wasn't working.
Three years passed, and both Emra and Wylie were ready to retire from the service.
After 12 years with the Air Force, Wylie was looking forward to leaving active duty behind to pursue a new career as a K-9 handler and security specialist for the U.S. State Department.
As for Emra, she was getting up there in dog years. While she continued working hard to keep the Osan Air Base secure, she was also struggling with early signs of arthritis. Soon enough, it was time for her to retire from the service.
But thanks to American Humane, Emra and Wylie will live out their twilight years together.
As part of their partnership with Crown Media Family Networks, American Humane helps to cover the costs and efforts required to bring retired service dogs back to the U.S. and place them in new homes. And that's exactly what they did for Emra and Sgt. Wylie.
The two shared a heartfelt reunion in April 2017 near the Wylie family's home outside of Cincinnati. At first, Wylie was concerned that Emra wouldn't recognize him — after all, they'd been separated for three years at that point, which was longer than the two they'd been together.
His fears subsided as soon as they saw each other. "She looked right at me, nuzzled into my neck, and licked my face. She had not forgotten the long shifts together posted out in the middle of nowhere or the endless hours training together."
"Our reunification was more than just two battle buddies catching up on 'old times,'" Wylie said, choking back tears. "A part of my family was brought back to me."
After nearly a decade of service, Emra will spend the rest of her life frolicking in the woods of the Wylie family farm; she certainly deserves it. She already has a new playmate in the form of Wylie's father's Jack Russell terrier, and she only has to answer to 4-year-old Chloe.
The first command that Chloe gave to welcome Emra home? "I'm going to play with her."
We've all heard the saying that dogs are man's best friend. But they can be more than that: They can be family, too.
Wylie is hardly the only service member to experience this kind of primal connection with a military dog. There's something about the high stakes of duty that make the bond even more powerful. You can see it in the story of Cpl. Megan Leavey, who was inspired to enlist after the death of her human best friend and found a new companion in a dog named Sgt. Rex. Over the years, Megan and Rex saved each others' lives in many different ways.
That sense of loyalty and obligation transcends language. That's why Emra still recognized Wylie after three years apart. It wasn't just his face or scent she remembered — it's a shared understanding that's thicker than blood, the kind that only family can provide.