Soldier Hasn't Seen Best Friend In 2 Yrs. Watch What Happens When They're Finally Reunited

The Moment He'd Been Waiting For

Facebook/NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

He waited impatiently at the airport, unsure of how the reunion was going to play out. He hadn’t seen her in two years and didn’t know if she was going to recognize him. Finally, the flight arrived and passengers started to come out. When he saw her and her companion turn the corner, he knelt down and motioned to her. It was a moment he had been anticipating for the longest time - and one he will always remember.

ADVERTISEMENT

Work Buddies

Facebook/NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

When Army Staff Sgt. Tom Hansen first met Taylor the Labrador, he had no idea of the incredibly strong bond he would form with her. He had been deployed to Iraq once and now was headed to Afghanistan after training to be a military service dog handler. Taylor was a bomb-sniffing dog, trained to find everything from explosives to ammunition, weapons, and vehicles. It was a working relationship that turned into so much more.

Learning To Trust Each Other

Facebook/NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

On their first mission together, Sgt. Hansen and Taylor were still getting to know each other. They were assigned to an 11-soldier special forces team and commanded to search a mountain pass. Twenty minutes into the mission, her behavior changed. Sgt. Hansen knew this meant she had sniffed something out. But she kept going around without pinpointing a specific spot, and the soldier became frustrated. He walked up to her and realized there was an IUD buried within an inch of his foot. This taught him a valuable lesson.

A Very Special Bond

Facebook/NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

“I learned from that day to always trust my dog and know that there is something there,” said Sgt. Hansen. This trust grew into a very special bond that helped keep both of them, as well as their unit, safe. Taylor sniffed out explosive traps laid by insurgents, and when there was a firefight he always commanded her to cover before engaging. After each mission, she would get a ball. Sgt. Hansen credits Taylor for keeping him alive.

One Of The Lucky Ones

David C. Turnley

Before becoming Taylor’s handler, Sgt. Hansen had several close calls with explosives that left him with concussions after knocking him off his feet. “I’m very lucky I came back with all my limbs,” he says. “I thank her for it. She’s who I have. It’s because of her I came back alive. I wouldn’t have asked for anybody else.” After two deployments in Afghanistan, he left active duty. But he wanted Taylor to come with him.

ADVERTISEMENT

A Painful Separation

Facebook/NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

Military dogs’ first handlers usually get first dibs to adopt them after they leave duty. However, when the time came for Sgt. Hansen to go home, another handler was in need of a capable bomb-sniffing dog - so Taylor remained on duty. The separation was hard on the soldier. “When they save your life that many times, they become part of your family,” he said. “It’s so hard to let them go. That’s the hardest part of being a dog handler.” Little did he know he’d one day see her again.

Life Back Home

Facebook/NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

After leaving active duty, Sgt. Hansen came back to the U.S. and was stationed at a base in Missouri. That’s when he struck up a relationship with Army Staff Sgt. Emily Donner, a field medic who had served in Afghanistan with him. She was stationed at a base in Georgia, but despite the long distance, they made it work. They eventually got engaged and moved to Boise, Idaho, where she is from. But Sgt. Hansen never forgot about Taylor.

She Did Her Duty

Facebook/NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

When she was 10 years old, Taylor was finally able to retire. It had been two years since Sgt. Hansen had last seen her in Afghanistan. Once he got word that she was retiring, he knew he wanted her to come live with him. But it wouldn’t be that easy. Despite getting first dibs, soldiers must cover the cost of transporting the dogs to their final destination, which can run up to thousands of dollars. Sgt. Hansen didn’t have that kind of money. Luckily, someone else did.

Just What They Needed

Facebook/NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

Molli Oliver is a flight attendant for United Airlines. She is an animal lover and she has great respect for the armed forces. A few years ago, she began helping retired military dogs reunite with their handlers back in the U.S. She picks up the dogs and flies them at her own expense. She had already reunited three families when she heard about Taylor and Sgt. Hansen - and knew she had to help.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Long-Awaited Reunion

Facebook/NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

Molli flew to the base in Missouri where Taylor was being kept after returning from Afghanistan. She picked her up and got on a plane with her - even buying first-class seats. Finally, they arrived in Boise. Molli walked with Taylor through the airport, where they met Sgt. Hansen. As soon as she saw him, she ran to him. It was a tear-jerking reunion.

Back Together At Last

Facebook/NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

“I think she recognized me immediately and she knew who I was, especially by the sound of my voice she knew it was dad,” said Sgt. Hansen. “But it really clicked in once we got her home. She was following me everywhere, she didn’t leave my side. So she knew she was finally home.” Even though Taylor is now an older dog, Sgt. Hansen is committed to making the most out of the time they've got left together.

The Retirement She Deserves

Facebook/NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

“I’m just going to give her the best retirement I can,” promised Sgt. Hansen. “Spoil her and do what I can to make the rest of her life happy and enjoyable.” After two years of being separated, he never plans to leave her side again. “I want to take her everywhere I can with me,” he said. “Just to be able to have as much time as I can with her for however much more time I have with her.” And she definitely deserves it after enduring some terrible things.

War Takes Its Toll

Facebook/NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

Being a military dog in a war zone took its toll on Taylor. “Toward the end of our deployment, she started shutting down,” explains Sgt. Hansen. “She wouldn’t work if I was holding a weapon. She started putting two and two together. It definitely got rough on her. Dogs can get PTSD just as quick as a human can.” So having Molli’s help to reunite her with her beloved handler was definitely a blessing.

ADVERTISEMENT

Keeping Up The Good Work

Facebook/NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

“Molli is like family now to us,” said Sgt. Hansen. “What she did for me and Taylor was amazing. I couldn’t thank her enough for reuniting us.” Molli, for her part, began the process of launching a nonprofit to continue her mission and bring even more dogs home to their handlers. When she invited Sgt. Hansen to serve on the board of the organization, he accepted. His love for dogs goes way beyond his bond with Taylor.

He's A Keeper

McClatchy/Idaho Statesman

Before Sgt. Hansen and Taylor were reunited, the soldier rescued a boxer named Harley who had been shot in the leg and abandoned with a crushed throat. This is one of the reasons Sgt. Donner fell in love with him. “If you love animals that much, you have to be a good person,” she said. We couldn’t agree more!

ADVERTISEMENT