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Afghanistan war veteran and military working dog reunite after years apart

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An Afghanistan war veteran who was seriously hurt on the front lines returned to the United States without his beloved Army combat dog specially trained to sniff out bombs. After years apart, they are back together again.

If you have a dog, you know they truly become part of your family. Maybe you would say -- your best friend.

Well, imagine training with your dog for years, being sent to war, then you're hurt, and the Army permanently separates you from the dog.

For the couple you're about to meet, "no" wasn't an answer they were prepared to accept.

"It's really a matching of personalities between the dog and the handler myself," said Army Spc. Josh Tucker. "We ended up just clicking and then she was mine from then on.

Tucker and Ellen, an English black lab, were a team on the front lines in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011. Tucker helped train Ellen to become a specialized search dog.

"Our main mission was IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and caches," Tucker said. "Every time we went out, we were right out in front. Anytime we went somewhere, we went searching."

"I'm still here so I imagine we were fairly successful with the IEDs. She was very good at what she did."

But a rollover accident sent Spc. Tucker back to the U.S. and eventually to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center with a head injury. He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

His wife knew they had to be reunited.

"Every night, he would tell me, ‘But I miss her. I never got to say goodbye. I just want to say goodbye to her,'" his wife Sherie told us.

The Tuckers soon discovered the Army wasn't redeploying Ellen with a new handler, so they wanted to adopt her.

"She wasn't bonding with anyone else," said Sherie. "From what everyone that I knew in the working dog community was telling me, she was just sitting in a run. And if that's the case, why not be sitting in our house?"

Enter Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema from the Tucker's home base district. Her office worked to make the adoption possible, but it wasn't easy.

"I was really surprised," she said. "When we first got the call from Specialist Tucker and his wife, we were happy to help. We filed letters, we called, and when we got the denial, we were very surprised.

Fewer than six months later, the efforts from the Tuckers and Congresswoman Sinema paid off. The Army agreed to allow the adoption to take place.

"Specialist Tucker, like many post-9/11 GI vets, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the evidence is very clear that pet therapy is an effective form of treatment," said Rep. Sinema. "And in particular for Specialist Tucker, Ellen is also his best friend."

On March 27, the reunion between Tucker and his best friend finally happened as cell phone video captured the moment.

"It was like she was real," said Tucker. "It felt more complete."

The Tuckers will have another reunion Tuesday with Rep. Sinema, who helped make this all possible.

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