Timothy Spalti is a junior majoring in business at SUNY Buffalo State. Before that, he was a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps.
He is the first Buffalo State student to receive the Efner "Lucky" Davis Returning Combat Veteran Scholarship which was awarded for the 2013–2014 academic year. “Lucky” Davis, a World War II vet, recently committed $402,000 in a charitable gift annuity to Buffalo State’s Transforming Lives campaign to endow the “Lucky” Davis Scholarship Fund, which honors returning Western New York combat veterans through scholarships.
Spalti, who completed two years of college while on active military duty, is very grateful for the scholarship. “This scholarship will assist my family greatly while I am earning my four-year degree,” said Spalti.
When Spalti deployed to Afghanistan, his job was to detect improvised explosive devices (IEDs). His partner? A dog named Tigo. Tigo, a Belgian Malinois, wears a radio device that allows him to take commands from long distances. “Tigo can search and receive commands from a couple hundred yards away when he finds a bomb,” said Spalti. “Normal canine leashes are about six to nine feet long and that’s a little too close for comfort.”
Spalti joined the Marines with the intention of becoming a Military Police Officer (MP). While he was in MP school, he was selected for canine school. “Canine school is where I found out about Specialized Search Dogs. There, your only job is to find bombs,” said Spalti. “I was learning I didn’t want to be a cop, so I signed up.”
We don’t often consider the roles dogs play in our military but Tigo, an experienced veteran, is one of many invaluable canine Marines. “Tigo had been to Iraq twice before I got him,” said Spalti. For his third deployment, Tigo shipped out with Spalti from Camp Pendleton, in California, as part of a unit containing 30 military working dog teams.
In Afghanistan, Spalti and Tigo worked primarily with the British Special Forces. “There is an online system where people request a specialized search dog team and I was usually slotted to go with the Brits, which was pretty cool,” said Spalti.
Tigo holds the rank of staff sergeant. “It’s not an official rank,” said Spalti, “but the custom is that dogs are given the rank one above their handler’s.” Tigo certainly earned his “rank” in his most recent tour. “We found six IEDs while we were over there,” said Spalti. “We saved a lot of lives and a lot of legs.”