SABIT QADAM, Afghanistan – Man’s best friend is known as a loyal companion and a watchful protector of its owner. The same goes for dogs in the military. But these are not everyday pets.
Sergeant Ssuzie is an improvised explosive device detection dog, currently on her second deployment to Afghanistan. Her handler is Cpl. Michael Horvath. Both are considered highly valuable assets to their squad.
“SSuzie is trained to pick up the scent of chemicals used to make explosives whether it is military, commercial or homemade,” said Horvath, an assaultman with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, from Kalamazoo, Mich. “I haven’t been able to patrol with her here, but in training scenarios, she has done an exceptional job at sniffing out IEDS.”
Horvath added it is nice to have a dog in the squad, but everyone in the squad must remember she is a warfighter like everyone else.
“You know, these aren’t your typical dogs because you don’t see them looking in the trash or destroying equipment,” said Pfc. Jarrod Davis, a mortarman serving with the squad. “These dogs are trained to help protect us from the threat of IEDs and that’s something they do very well.”
Davis, 20, a Charlotte, N.C., native said when his squad was conducting a mock security patrol prior to deploying, he got to see first-hand how effective SSuzie is.
As the squad unloaded from the back of a 7-ton truck, SSuzie barked at the ground in front of her. Horvath informed the squad there may be an IED in the area, and everyone began looking around for indicators.
Davis said the squad couldn’t find any indicators so they prepared to pull out their mine sweepers. A short while after, Horvath sent SSuzie to find the IED.
“I remember seeing her run across the field as if she had known where it was the whole time,” said Davis. “Then she stopped in an area and we could see where someone dug up a spot and placed the IED.”
Davis said SSuzie makes him feel safe, knowing they have an effective tool for finding IEDs.
“IDD dogs are a tool to be employed by the Marines, but they are also dogs which means they come with a great responsibility,” said Horvath. “The dogs have to be cleaned, fed and walked. If she goes to the bathroom, I have to clean up her mess.”
Horvath said if SSuzie has medical needs then he is responsible to ensure she is taken care of. He must be able to read her behavioral changes.
“Knowing your dog is essential to being a good dog handler,” said Horvath. “Your life could be depending on her. If you don’t understand her, you run the risk of harming her, yourself or the Marines in your squad.”