Many members of the military spend years on the battlefield. In fact, some spend the majority of their lives there. They don't operate aircrafts or military vehicles, aren't equipped with weaponry or much armor, yet they're charged with one of the more dangerous combat jobs overseas: locating explosives. They're the military's combat dogs.

Dedicating their lives to the protection of their human companions and to citizens thousands of miles away, they have been called the guardians of America's freedom. Unfortunately, many of them have been left behind.

Military dogs take the hill
A group of five war dog veterans accompanied by military canine advocates took to Capitol Hill recently to speak with lawmakers. The goal was to pass new legislation mandating that retiring war dogs be brought home to the U.S., preferably with their handlers, instead of being left overseas. According to USA Today, the president of the American Humane Association told reporters that military dogs are often not brought back to the states.

"Military working dogs that are retired overseas will go to a local shelter or another military facility if they're not adopted," said Robin Ganzert, president of the American Humane Association, according to USA Today. "We need to bring them back to the U.S., the country they were raised in and served for. They need to be retired on U.S. soil and reunited with the soldier that they worked with, because that's the person that cares most about the dog. It's a powerful bond they share."

The USA Today report said that over 1,775 war dogs are currently in service. Around 300 to 400 of those dogs retire and are adopted annually. If they are not adopted, they are left in a kennel. Despite a great amount of adoption volunteers, logistics can keep some people from bringing the dogs back home. Namely, future caretakers of the dogs are responsible for the canines' transportation back to the country, and that service can cost thousands of dollars.

According to NPR, Congress passed a law last year saying the military may bring dogs back from war zones to be reunited with their handlers. However, the saying that the military "may" bring the dogs back home does not require them to honor the service. Canine veteran advocates on Capitol Hill want the military to pay for bringing the dogs back stateside, allowing their handlers that served alongside them to adopt them more easily.

A life of service
Military dogs are charged with a service period that can last for years. A dog is only retired if it becomes sick, injured or cannot perform its duties. Where some handlers go on tours that last one or two years, dogs can be kept in service overseas for much longer. Sometimes, they never come back to the U.S.

Last year, John Burnam – a dog handler in Vietnam and the writer of two combat dog books – helped erect the country's first national monument dedicated to service dogs, according to Reuters. Inscribed with "Guardians of America's Freedom, the monument was built with past combat canines in mind. Military officials did not allow combat dogs in Vietnam to return with their handlers.

"They were heroes," Burnam told Reuters, "and they were left to die."

Canine advocates are fighting to bring veteran dogs back home to the states to be reunited with handlers like Marine vet Deano Miller. Miller served with a yellow Labrador named Thor four years ago, according to NPR. During their service, Thor was never on a leash or in a kennel. He never left Miller's side.

When Miller went back to the U.S., Thor was left behind in Afghanistan to finish his service.

"I had to wait 3 1/2 years for him, but I'd wait more if I had to," Miller said, according to NPR.

Now, the veteran dog can rest at home with his partner.