Military working dogs gained widespread attention after Cairo participated in the SEAL Team 6 mission that led to Osama bin Laden's death. Before that, few civilians realized that dogs served in combat, let alone that they could parachute from thirty thousand feet up.
The Dogs of War reveals the amazing range of jobs that our four-legged soldiers now perform, examines the dogs' training and equipment, and sets the record straight on those rumors of titanium teeth. You'll find heartwarming stories of the deep bond that dogs and their handlers share with each other, and learn how soldiers and civilians can help the cause by fostering puppies or adopting retirees.
An incredible story of the largely unseen but vital role that dogs play in our armed forces, The Dogs of War is a must-read for animal lovers everywhere.
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LISA ROGAK is the author of the Edgar- and Anthony-nominated Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King and editor of the New York Times-bestselling Barack Obama in His Own Words. Her son serves in the United States Army, Delta Company of the 489th Civil Affairs Battalion.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
DOGS OF WAR
Since the story first broke that there was a dog on the SEAL raid that brought down Osama bin Laden, there has been a lot of speculation and misinformation swirling around dogs in the military and the lives they lead.
After all, military working dogs (MWDs) are unique in the military, since they are the only living item in the entire supply chain. At the same time, however, they are regarded just like other soldiers.
“They get a place in the line just like everybody else,”1 said Army Staff Sergeant Robert Moore, a handler and kennel master with the 217th Military Police Detachment from Fort Lee, Virginia.
There will always be those critics and activists who believe that no dog should do the hard, gritty work of a soldier, let alone be subjected to sniper fire and worse in the middle of combat. However, those in the military hold firm that the life that a canine soldier leads is much more fulfilling and filled with care than that of most domestic dogs.
Besides, every dog needs a purpose.
“These dogs are treated better than anybody’s dog in the house,” said Gerry Proctor, public affairs officer for the 37th Training Wing at Lackland, where most of the military’s dogs are trained. “In fact, it’s a punishable offense in the military to maltreat or mistreat a dog.”2
This is the primary reason why the dogs are not only awarded a rank—that’s Sergeant Rover to you!—just like enlisted soldiers, but that rank is always one level higher than the handler’s. After all, if a human soldier were to physically or mentally abuse a superior in some fashion, it would be grounds for court-martial. “It’s like hitting a higher rank, and that’s not allowed,”3 said Technical Sergeant Jason Hanisko, handler with the 75th Security Forces Squadron at Hill Air Force Base near Ogden, Utah.
In fact, dogs and handlers often get upgraded to first class when they fly commercially; not only do airlines provide the upgrade as a reward for serving their country in a unique fashion, but they also rightly believe that their mere presence helps improve security on the plane. Clifford Hartley appreciates the special service.
“Many times, if the flight’s not full, the flight attendants will clear out a row of seats for us so the dog can stretch out,” he said, adding that both he and Cir appreciate it even more if there’s room in first class. “The flight attendants are always extremely nice and bring us food and drinks, and when other passengers see the dog, they always want to talk my ear off.”4
Why are these dogs cared for and treated so well? What special skills do they have that regular—human—soldiers do not?
In short, their senses of smell and hearing, and especially their loyalty, all combine into a superior ability when it comes to doing their jobs: protecting their handlers and the troops around them.
“They say one dog is worth about ten soldiers, not in their capabilities but in their senses,” said Air Force Staff Sergeant Zeb Miller, who served as handler to Nero, a German shepherd who helped him find explosives while deployed in Iraq in 2007. “Our job is to make a soldier’s job go faster.”5
When it comes to sense of smell, dogs clearly excel. While humans have around forty million olfactory receptors in their nose, dogs have two billion, which means their sense of smell can be up to one hundred times better, depending on the breed.
“Their sense of smell is so good that, for instance, with a cheeseburger, we might smell only the cheese or the burger, but they smell the cheese, the pickle, the tomato, and the lettuce,” said Air Force Staff Sergeant Patrick D. Spivey, a military handler teamed up with Bodro, a Belgian Malinois. “It is almost as if they smell it all in 3-D.”6
“A dog’s sense of smell is similar to a human’s sense of vision,” Gerry Proctor added. “While we can detect a broad spectrum in a single color and see subtle differences in tone, shade, and intensity, they can do that through scent. They could pick up an artifact that we may have had from bin Laden and then track that scent.”7
And they can do it at a distance, too, up to 250 yards away with no distractions and about 50 yards with wind and lots of competing scents. In fact, a study at Auburn University in Alabama, which has a department devoted to studying military working dogs, theorizes that dogs have the ability to detect the equivalent of a single drop of blood in an Olympic-size swimming pool, which translates to less than 500 parts per trillion.
They’re no slouches when it comes to their hearing, either, which is at once broader and more selective than ours. A dog can hear up to thirty-five thousand hertz per second while humans can barely manage twenty thousand, which means that it’s a piece of cake for them to hear footsteps nearby even when a fighter jet is taking off right next to them. They also are more sensitive to high-pitched noises and have the ability to close off their inner ear, which can help them block out background sounds in order to concentrate on a noise that’s directly in front of them.
It’s this combination of natural sensory perfection that just makes dogs—military or otherwise—so much better attuned to the world. Often it almost seems as if they’re clairvoyant and have a sixth sense that helps them to do their jobs.
“There are certain things like a dog’s sense of smell, sight, hearing, everything about them is way more in tune than ours are,” said Spivey. “You might be out on a patrol, and to you it looks like a normal road, but then your dog lets you know, hey, there’s something not right there.”8
Not to mention the fact that the ferocity of a military dog helps protect soldiers. “The intimidation factor of a barking dog is awesome,” said Petty Officer Second Class Johnny B. Mitchell. “People shut their mouths and comply.”9
When Larry Buehner was serving as a sergeant and handler in the Army’s 37th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon in Vietnam, he quickly learned never to take it personally whenever other soldiers would request his scout dog, Cali—one of the few female canines serving in the war—and not him.
Like most dog handlers, he rotated among several different companies, and after Larry and Cali had saved their butts just one time, preventing them from walking into an almost certain ambush or alerting them to a trip wire attached to a nearby mine, a company would request the team time and again. Only they asked for the dog, not the human. “They’d say, ‘Hey, is Cali available?’” Buehner remembered. “They never knew the handlers’ names, but they knew the names of the dogs.”
He took it in stride, because he knew how much a dog could lift the spirits of a fellow soldier. “The infantry was always immensely glad to see the dog handlers, because everybody loves dogs, and the dogs served as a reminder of home,” he said. “More importantly, the dogs really worked, they saved platoons and they saved lives, so everybody likes you.”
It was a well-deserved reward for an often harrowing and dangerous job. Along with other scout dogs and their handlers, the canine team’s primary job was to walk point, out in the lead in front of other troops, to detect traps, mines, snipers, and other dangers.
“If there were mines buried in the fields, Cali would just walk around them,” said Buehner. “You never questioned, you just followed the dog. If she walked that way, I walked that way.”
One day, Buehner’s squad was ordered to cover a circular piece of jungle and push any Viet Cong in it toward another squad, which would then ambush them. While scout teams usually followed a trail and stayed oriented by having one man read a map and another one follow with a compass, on this particular day, the squad was breaking through jungle and brush. The growth was not thick enough that the men had to machete it, so Buehner could still keep a watchful eye on Cali’s movements several yards ahead.
Suddenly, Cali froze, so Buehner radioed his commanding officer to tell him that the dog alerted. The next move was for a few other soldiers to investigate. After staring into the jungle, however, the lieutenant told the squad that there wasn’t any danger—essentially saying that the dog had lied—and to move on.
Against Buehner’s better judgment, he reluctantly agreed and walked only two more feet before Cali alerted again—more strongly than before—and stopped in her tracks. He repeated that the dog alerted again, but the lieutenant insisted that he ignore the dog and keep moving. Risking insubordination, Buehner told him in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t budging and that he needed to see what was going on out there. But something had sparked his caution even more: The other squads in the vicinity shared the same radio frequency, and he’d overheard their radio operator say that his counterpart on the other squad had heard movement directly in front of them.
With a fuming higher-up breathing down his neck, Buehner asked his radio operator to get his counterpart’s location. After conferring back and forth, it turned out that Buehner, Cali, and the troops directly behind him were the cause of the movement and were only about one hundred yards away from the other squad. “If we had gone on any further, we would have walked right into their ambush,” he said. “Cali saved our lives.”
Buehner risked insubordination, but after working with Cali, he knew that the dog always knows best. “You’ve got to ...
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