Tech. Sgt. John Mascolo and his military working dog, Ajax, left, await a helicopter pickup with Staff Sgt. Manny Garcia and his dog, Jimmy, outside Forward Operating Base Normandy, Iraq, on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2006. The dogs are wearing “doggles” to prevent sand and debris from getting in their eyes during sandstorms or when near helicopters. (U.S. Army photo/Pfc. William Servinski II)
A dog is man’s best friend.
Dogs have been so from the earliest times.
They have also been some of man’s best companions and protectors during hunting, patrolling, in guarding his person and property — and in warfare.
“The Greeks and Romans probably were the first users of dogs in warfare. They sent formations of attack dogs, complete with spiked armor, to harass and cause general disturbance throughout enemy lines,” according to a factsheet published by the Department of Defense (DoD) Military Working Dog School, the 341st Training Squadron.
This unique military organization located at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, procures, trains and provides military working dogs (MWDs) used in patrol, drug and explosive detection, and specialized mission functions by DoD and other government agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration at more than 80 major airports throughout the country. It also conducts the training of the MWD handlers and provides a breeding program, veterinary care, and research and development for related security efforts worldwide.
The 341st is the modern day follow-up to the original U.S. Army Canine (K-9) Corps which itself grew out of the first nine American-trained sentry dogs the U.S. Army received from Dogs for Defense Inc. in May 1942.
More than 110 Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force personnel conduct the training courses for dogs and handlers at 90 training areas and laboratories, encompassing 400 acres, 1,000 kennel runs and an average population of about 800 dogs.
For those interested in these loyal, intelligent and brave animals, the factsheet has a wealth of fascinating information as summarized below.
The best breeds of dogs for MWD are the German Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd and Belgian Malinois. “[They] have the best overall combination of keen sense of smell, endurance, speed, strength, courage, intelligence and adaptability to almost any climatic condition. The highly developed senses of hearing and smell, along with a generally superior personality and disposition, make [these breeds] the most versatile working dog breeds, and the ones best suited for military duties.”
The fact sheet describes the “basic military working dog,” the differences between a sentry dog and a patrol dog and how the dogs are selected, acquired and trained.
The fact sheet also describes the very special roles and training of “detector dogs.” How the detection roles have progressed from detecting marijuana and other drugs in Southeast Asia, through the detection of cocaine, hashish and heroin (today the Department of Defense has more than 500 drug detector dogs in service at various bases around the world), into explosives, bombs and ordnance and how they finally expanded into the detection of the deadly Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mine detection dog Gill and his handler search for explosives while a soldier provides security watch during a patrol in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, in May 2012. U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. David Brink
The 341st also runs a relatively new program: the training of Combat Tracker Dog Teams to recognize and follow a human quarry, such as enemy insurgents, IED makers, and snipers.
Because of their “work,” these brave dogs are exposed to numerous physical dangers and injuries. Providing veterinary care for the Lackland-kenneled dogs as well as “worldwide referral and consultative services” for all dogs in the DoD MWD and other federal programs, the Veterinary Flight’s professional staff consists of 14 skilled veterinarians and 25 registered veterinary technicians and U.S. Army animal care specialists.
Saman, a military working dog stationed with the 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, lies on an operating table, as medical personnel attempt to remove a tooth, which was forced into his jaw during a training accident. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo/Released)
Finally, even these skilled and dedicated dogs come to the end of their long and useful careers, typically after 10 to 12 years.
The Robby Law, enacted in the year 2,000 permits MWDs declared “excess” to DoD needs to be adopted following completion of their careers on “active duty” and after careful screening for suitability. “Potential owners are also screened … for their capability to handle and care for a former MWD. In particular, new owners must be aware of the circumstances and commands that might call to action a lifetime of military training in a former MWD.”
Coba, a 3-year-old chocolate lab trained to detect tactical explosives, chews on a tennis ball as David Sheffer, her handler and dog trainer, explains Coba’s capabilities at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, Calif., June 14, 2012. Brigade members will select handlers to lead a similar dog in Afghanistan when they deploy this fall.
Coincidentally, Saturday’s New York Times has an interesting article on the treatment of sick or injured military working dogs in combat settings and on the training to provide such care.
The training is conducted by Long Island Veterinary Specialists, “which is considered one of the most advanced veterinary hospitals in the country, and by K-9 Medic, a company that teaches how to give emergency medical care to service dogs.”
Air Force Lt. Col. Stephen Rush, who helped organize the training, says, “There’s no reason that what we do on the battlefield should not reflect the best medicine in the world,” according to the Times.
Some other interesting facts:
There are about 2,700 dogs serving in the armed forces; 29 have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a military spokeswoman.
The dogs sniff out bombs and detect booby-traps inside buildings and along roadways. The total value of a trained working dog — often German shepherds, black Labrador retrievers, or Belgian Malinois — can reach $40,000.
And what most of us already knew:
In addition, the units they serve grow emotionally attached to their dogs.
“A dog is like a brother to these guys,” Sergeant Joseloff said. Elite pararescuemen, trained as emergency paramedics, are responsible for many rescue and recovery missions in remote and dangerous locations.
Read more here.