ZABUL PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN
ZABUL, Afghanistan - As the war in Afghanistan enters its tenth year, improvised explosive devices remain a major threat to the thousands of men and women in the armed forces.
The military has continuously seeks to employ the latest technology to counteract this hazard with creations such as specialized vehicles including mine resistant ambush protected vehicles and innovations such as electronic countermeasures.
While such technological advancements undoubtedly contribute to save the lives of many U.S. and coalition warfighters, soldiers stationed in at Forward Operating Base Lagman, in Zabul, Afghanistan, don’t hesitate to put their faith and ultimately their lives in the hands, or more specifically, the paws of "man’s best friend."
Studies have shown that a dog’s sensitivity to smell to be greater than 10 times that of a typical human. The U.S. military’s current crop of the canine (K9) corps can follow their noses to smell concentration levels 100 million times lower than the human nose which allows them to protect soldiers in a way that no man-made equipment can.
“There isn’t a piece of equipment that can do what a dog can do,” said Tech Sgt. Richard Duvall, a Tulsa, Okla., native and kennel master assigned to the 48th Security Forces Squadron, of the U.S. Air Force.
According to Duvall, a dog’s ability to interact with its handler and its ability to adjust to the surroundings puts them a “paws and shoulders” above even the most advanced of today’s robots.
Although there are a number of breeds of dogs that make the perfect pet, there are very few that can perform at the intense level the military requires.
Some of the more popular breeds selected by the military for combat operations include the German shepherd, Dutch shepherd and Belgian Malinois. K9s, or military working dogs can detect chemicals used to make IEDs, narcotics, mines, and weapons caches better than any other animal, especially with the addition of their specialized training, Duvall said.
An average military working dog spends more than a year training to detect such hazards before being assigned to a unit. From there the pups receive more advanced training to hone in on one of nine military specialties, many of which are highly guarded to maintain operational security.
Once equipped with the right training and skills, Duvall said our four-legged allies can help change the outcome of any mission.
Duvall recalls during a previous deployment to Iraq, one MWD whose mere presence was enough to strike fear in the hearts of insurgents who were known to refer to the all black German shepherd as the "grim reaper."
Despite being perceived as aggressive animals because of the nature of their job MWDs are also highly disciplined, something the military puts great emphasis on whether it comes to soldiers or canine counterparts.
“Our dogs are very disciplined…we treat our dogs just like a new airman or new Pvt. in the army,” said Staff Sgt. April Lorah, a dog handler assigned to the 673rd Security Forces. “The more they behave during our training and the longer we work with a dog the more we can release them without a leash and trust them with more responsibility. Kind of like an airman or Pvt. works to become a NCO,” She laughed.
Together Duvall, Lorah, and the rest of their team mates have more than twenty years of experience handling dogs making Combined Team Zabul’s K9 team one of the best. They have also managed to bring together almost every military service to include the Air Force, Army and the Navy.
Down through history, the K9 teams of the U.S. military have easily helped save the lives of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. However, the mission of freedom’s forces far from home continue, so this is no time to celebrate and Lorah feels confident that the future is much brighter with the help of her combat canine companion.
Although MWDs have been receiving some long-overdue headlines September 11, 2001, the concept of using dogs in war is definitely not new. Many historians have pointed out that dogs have been used in combat as early as 628 years before Christ.
Between 1525 and 1580, Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I sent more than 1,200 dogs to war.
Fast forward to May 2, 2011 and another MWD, or perhaps more appropriately, a canine commando burst into the spotlight. U.S. Navy SEALs, on that day of infamy, accompanied by a Belgian Malinois, by the name of Cairo, executed their now-world-renowned raid to kill 9/11 mastermind, Osama Bin Laden, making Cairo the poster pup for a star-spangled success in the war on terror.
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This work, On the front lines with ‘man’s best friend’, by SSG Thomas Duval, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.