FORT LEE, Va. (June 16, 2016) -- Name: Sgt. Eric Conway

Unit: 544th Military Working Dog Detachment

MOS: 31K – military working dog handler

Age: 31

Time in service: 11 years

Hometown: Spencerport, N.Y.

Personality strengths: “Giving, selfless and independent.”

Personality weaknesses: “Admitting when I need help; asking questions – I like to figure things out on my own. Sometimes it’s easier just to ask; and on top of that, I think I know everything.”

Worst fear: “Losing someone or leaving someone behind.”

Pet peeve: “When someone asks a question, I give them the answer and they question me even more.”

The one person you most admire: “My father. At my age, he was going to night school, working, supporting a wife and two kids. Everyone likes saying, ‘Oh, you’re in the military and doing such great things.’ No, you don’t understand; my old man, he did this for us – he broke his back to give us a better life.”

Dream car: “A completely rallied-out Subaru Impreza.”

Your ideal life: “A couple of acres in Montana; being able to ;skeet shoot off the back porch if I want to; ride a motorcycle when I feel like it and have enough money to support myself but also having the time to give back to the community.”

Favorite movie: “‘The Hunt for Red October’ (starring Sean Connery). It’s old school and one of my grandfather’s favorites; and my whole family was Navy and Navy movies are a favorite.”

If your relatives were all Navy veterans, were you the first to break tradition? “I did. There was a lot of razzing and jokes. One of my uncles was in the Persian Gulf during (Operation) Desert Shield/Storm, and he was on an aircraft carrier working in a computer lab. I have to remind them it takes boots on the ground to get the work done.”

One defining moment: “Watching two of my buddies get cut down (in Afghanistan) because I didn’t clear my sector. That was a game-changer for me. Everyone kept telling me I did the right thing, but two guys were laying up at Walter Reed (National Military Medical Center) because of me. We were clearing a ditch and it was coming across like a driveway into a little covered drainage area. I sent my dog across then I went across. I didn’t see any of the things I look for as a dog handler, so I kept pressing on until I got to the other side of the driveway. When the two guys behind me came out, a guy with a PKM and two guys with an AK opened up on them. Thankfully, they’re alive and everyone on the team was telling me that ‘you did everything you could; you were helping out were you should’ve been.’ But I feel like it was something I should’ve seen; that I should’ve sensed or known about. I could’ve done more. ”

Why you joined the Army: “Because of what I saw during 9/11. I said, ‘Never again.’ I was in high school when it happened. I knew I had the conviction and intelligence … I knew if I had to do something terrible I could do it with a clear conscious as opposed to some of my friends.”

What it means to serve your country: “Personally, it means everything. It’s a higher calling. It’s definitely not for everybody. For all of the ups and downs, the Army has given me everything I ever needed.”

What people don’t know about working dogs: “Imagine if you went to work one day and a piece of equipment you depended on is suddenly not working. You know, you went to the range and your M4 didn’t feel like firing. That’s what we deal with. We deal with an animal that has thoughts, feelings and wants of their own, and we have to learn how to manipulate that through the psychology of what we do. The other thing is the time. At 3:30 on a Friday afternoon, when most people are ready to go home, and me and all of my handlers are still here. If we’re not training or taking care of dogs, we’re taking care of ourselves as Soldiers.”

Toughest part of your job: “When a dog goes down (dies). That’s always pretty rough. I throw on my armor and crack jokes, but at the end of the day, it tears me inside to see a dog hurt, killed, or not adopted and euthanized. The other one is family. I have a 10-month-old daughter at home who’s giving my wife hell right now, and I wish I could go home and help her, be there for her and spend time with them. I’m out the door usually before my daughter wakes up, and I’m usually home about 45 minutes before she goes to bed. That’s 45 minutes of her getting a bath or getting fed. Then she’s off to bed and I’m getting ready for the next day.”

The qualities you like to see in leaders: “I like the take-charge aspect in leaders, whether they’ve done a particular job or not. Even if they have no idea of what they’re doing, the basic of leadership will get you to where you need to go. What I don’t like in leaders is when they act like they know and they don’t. Then we have a problem. Now, if you admit the fact you don’t know, then I’m OK with that.”

If you were the Army Chief of Staff you would … “Make sure the standards are enforced is the biggest one. I would put weapons qualification higher on the standards bar. Before you’re a dog handler or MP or anything else, you’re a rifleman. If you’re a clerk who can’t shoot, we don’t need you.”

Best thing about the Army: “Seeing the world.”

Worst thing about the Army: “The pay.”

Future plans: “I at least want to get up to sergeant first class and take on some kennels of my own. After the Army, I would like to open up a no-kill shelter or raise rescue dogs and other animals.”