Darkness enveloped the entire mountain like a thick fog. Two hours into the training session,the team had traversed the easier part of the climb, but massive rocks, steeper inclines, small ledges and sheer cliffs awaited.
Because of the terrain’s difficulty and ruggedness, Trevor Maroshek, a veteran of ten years in the Navy, realized he had to let his partner off the leash.
“For safety reasons, I had to let Chopper go,” Maroshek says of his 5-year-old German Shepherd. “I just hoped he would not get hurt.”
In an instant, Chopper bolted into the darkness—his black fur blending into the night.
“He bounded up the rocks like a leopard,” Maroshek says.
When Chopper reached the top, he turned, positioned himself at a ledge, and looked down on the other SEAL Team members.
“It was almost like he was thinking, ‘Hurry up, you guys,’” Maroshek says with a chuckle.
Ironically, eight months earlier, Maroshek had wanted nothing to do with a canine. In fact, had you told him one day he would be partnered with a dog, he probably would have said you were crazy; but life has its ways of taking you in directions you never envisioned.
The SEAL canine program was just getting off the ground when the chief approached Maroshek and asked if he would be interested in teaming with a dog.
“I blindly said yes, but I did not know what I was getting into,” says Maroshek, now retired from the SEALs.
The next morning, the 28-year-old showed up at the facility, but he did not want to leave the platoon he had been with for five years; he was unenthusiastic about the prospect of having a dog.
“The guy in charge seemed wishy washy,” Maroshek recalls. “There was no [real] program, and just a couple of guys over there.”
Maroshek talked to them, and he left with even less enthusiasm than when he arrived.
“The master chief had told me to give it a fair shake, but I went back to him and told him it was not for me,” Maroshek says.
Or so he thought. Maroshek returned the next day. The turning point occurred the moment he walked in.
“I saw this big, giant black dog that was doing inverted flips in the air and growling,” says Maroshek. “He was a black-on-black mess.”
“I saw this big, giant black dog that was
doing inverted flips in the air and growling.”
Maroshek asked the personnel if he could check the dog out, and he was hooked.
“This black Shepherd was the scariest, meanest dog I had ever seen in my life,” he said. “I understood he had even bitten some people. [Still], I told them, ‘I’ll take him.’”
With his partner at his side, Trevor Maroshek walked out the front door with the intention of becoming the best SEAL Team dog team ever.
Name: Trevor Maroshek
Residence: Southern California
Years in the Navy: 10 (2002 – 2012)
Military Resume: E6501 (SEAL Team 7, 1 and 5), K-9 Handler, Lead Sniper
Tours: Iraq, S.E. Asia, Iran, Afghanistan
Following a training session two days later, Maroshek received a stern warning.
“They told me, ‘Don’t drive with your dog in the front seat because he will probably attack you.’”
The words did not exactly go in one ear and out the other, but Maroshek was approaching this relationship from a different perspective.
“After I left the facility, I pulled over and let him [Chopper] in the front seat with me,” he says. “I figured we’re going to be partners. The rest is history.”
The weeks ahead were filled with training classes, and it didn’t take long for Maroshek to realize he was in a very good place.
“I had the best tool you could imagine,” Maroshek says. “He [the dog] was going to be an early training system, as he could smell out explosives, our No. 1 threat. He would have our back, and he did what I told him.”
On top of everything else, the two just flat-out clicked. “He [the dog] was responsive to my commands,” Maroshek says. “I was training a goldmine.”
But all that glitters is not always gold.
Communication with a dog is critical. Standard words are used for commands like, “Sit,” “Stay” and “Lay down,” but classified words are used for other commands such as, “Key up” (on someone), “Attack” and “Danger.”
A BILINGUAL CANINE
Initially, Chopper (then Larika) was trained in Czech, but he adapted to English quickly. Trevor Maroshek also changed his name
When Maroshek received treatment for combat-related injuries, Chopper accompanied him to the hospital. “While there, he had a profound impact on the other guys,” says Maroshek. “We let them pet him, and he showed them love. That was better than any pill [they could have received].” As a result of Chopper’s acceptance and effectiveness at the hospitals, Maroshek started a K-9 program for hospitalized vets.
Chopper suffered muscular injuries, and once had debris blown into his left eye from helicopter blades. After that, he started to wear goggles. “There were lots of close calls with explosives going off, but God watched out for us,” Maroshek says.
As the pair continued with its training, which included an advanced police course and a series of world-renowned schools for canines, among other programs, the time was fast approaching for Maroshek to introduce Chopper to the platoon. However, despite the canine’s training, word was the others did not have a warm and fuzzy feeling about the newest team member.
“I introduced Chopper to every environment known to man so he would be comfortable when he encountered them in the real world,” Maroshek says. “I wanted to set him up for success. If he did not trust me [now], we were not going to be successful, especially in the middle of a fight. The real bond is trust.”
Next, he had to prove to the SEAL team that the newest member could handle the responsibilities, and the team had to feel confident in Maroshek and Chopper.
“I had to convince the head of other teams that Chopper is a great tool to bring with them, but they were not convinced,” Maroshek says. “Their attitude was, ‘If it is not broken, do not fix it.’”
They also felt that Chopper may be a potential liability, but nothing discouraged Maroshek.
Training took them to the North Pole for rock climbing, fast roping, skydiving, two-mile ocean swims and more.
“That’s when Chopper became a Navy SEAL,” Maroshek says. “He did everything.”
Not only did the team ultimately accept Chopper, but the tandem’s relationship blossomed when they officially joined SEAL Team 1. When they returned to the states, the pair never left each other’s side.
“I brought Chopper home with me, and we went everywhere together,” he said. “While some guys took their dogs to the kennel, I took him to the beach, we ran, and we did everything. He was not just a working companion.”
They became so in tune with each other that Chopper knew Maroshek’s mannerisms, the tone of his voice, how he moved and how he walked and talked.
“We could read each other well,” he says. All of this translated perfectly to the battlefield.
While on duty, Chopper was an early warning system for danger, he engaged in vehicle interdictions, tracking and much more. He also saved the team’s life when he picked up the enemy’s scent, preventing an ambush. This was not the first time that his partnered saved his life.
When Maroshek first partnered with Chopper, he had just suffered through a “heavy, emotional” time. Looking back, Maroshek admits he did not want the responsibility of a dog at that time. That feeling, however, changed quickly. The pair quickly became inseparable, an arrangement which continued after retirement.
Now, where Maroshek goes, Chopper goes. From surfing the beach breaks of Point Loma to running an errand, Chopper is always by Maroshek’s side.
In combat, I was absolutely concerned about Chopper’s well being. I had accepted that my brothers in arms and I would lay our lives down for a mission, and Chopper fell under the same guideline. Having a relationship with a dog is equivalent to a relationship with a person, so I loved and cared about him as a best friend.
On one mission, we had to go up into the mountains at about 13,000 feet. We bailed out of the plane quickly, and had to snowboard down this mountain that was covered in about five feet of fresh powder. I had to let Chopper go, and he had to keep up with us as we slid down this mountain at about 35 mph. I thought, “Oh my gosh. I cannot believe we pulled that off.” – Trevor Maroshek
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the November-December 2016 print issue of World of Firepower Magazine.