In the golden glow of dawn, an Australian Army Black Hawk helicopter swept in low over Sydney Harbour. Below, ferries, water taxis, speedboats and yachts were already out on the water, leaving foaming white trails behind them. Inside the helicopter’s passenger compartment, Sergeant Ben Fulton of the Special Operations Engineer Regiment (SOER) sat in full combat rig of bulletproof vest, camouflage jacket and trousers. A holstered Browning Hi Power 9 mm automatic pistol was strapped low on his right thigh, and a rappelling harness covered his torso. Leather combat gloves moulded to his hands so precisely they were like a second skin. On the belt around his waist were a full water canteen, a sheathed combat knife, spare Browning magazines and two pouches – the larger one empty, the smaller one containing dog biscuits.
Ben Fulton and his EDD (explosives detection dog) Caesar are back in a new adventure. Operation Blue Dragon opens with a sweep of the Sydney Opera House in preparation for the arrival of the United Nations (UN) Secretary General. Ben and Caesar discover a bomb and afterwards enjoy an event at Government House. There they meet the UN Secretary General who two weeks later is taken hostage by the Taliban. Ben and Caesar are part of a team assembled to rescue the UN Secretary General and his staff. Time is of the essence as is secrecy. Back in Sydney Ben’s son Josh is experiencing challenges of his own at school, where a bully seems to have fixed on him. Josh doesn’t want to worry his father at his work, but he’s at a loss to know just what to do.
Operation Blue Dragon: 2 combines the action and high drama of elite forces in Afghanistan with the real life dramas faced by families of soldiers. There are multiple storylines for readers to follow. There’s Josh’s bully dramas; Sergeant Ben Fulton’s work; friend Charlie’s recuperation from double amputation and return to the job he loves and the family’s adjustment to the loss of Josh’s mother to cancer. There are detailed explanations of equipment, manoeuvres and acronyms. Dog-lovers will appreciate the intelligence and judgement displayed by Caesar. Along the way, readers discover both the people and the landscape of Afghanistan and about the ongoing challenges of that war. There are also explanations of the role of the UN and the structure of some of the organisations that link with the UN. Violence is acknowledged but the details are not dwelt on. This is an ideal story for action-loving boys who want to know all about the army and special forces.
Caesar the War Dog: Operation Blue Dragon, Stephen Dando-Collins
Random House Australia 2013 ISBN: 9780857980533
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
Available from good bookshops or online.