KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan – One asset being used today against roadside bombs is a different type of tool often seen on the battlefield.
The fact that it isn’t another electronic item stored away in a backpack or vehicle is a change for some soldiers.
Military working dogs have worked hand-in-hand with the military for decades as guard dogs or attack dogs. However, soldiers are now seeing more and more bomb sniffing dogs going on missions with them.
“These dogs smell the odor no matter what it’s hidden or buried in, their noses will pick up the explosive’s odor,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Phillips, An infantryman and dog handler assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team “Rakkasans,” 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). “You could spend days looking around with a metal detector and only find garbage. No matter what the explosive is made of, the dog will smell the odor of the material.”
Phillips is just one of thirteen Rakkasans in the Tactical Explosive Detection Dogs program also known as TEDD. The program takes soldiers from different military jobs and sends them to a nine-week course where they learn to work hand-in-hand with their new partner and their responsibilities inherent with being a dog handler.
“You have to learn the dog’s body language on what they smell,” said Cpl. Daniel Crean, a military police officer assigned to 3rd BCT. “Each dog has a different reaction to explosive odor. In a perfect scenario, the handler notices the dog’s reaction and calls them back before they go to the bomb.”
Phillips leans over and hugs his canine partner, a German shepherd named Sgt. 1st Class Rocky.
“I think the hardest part of the class was learning how to read your dogs movements,” said Pfc. William Clark, an infantryman and dog handler assigned to 3rd BCT. “It was the most stressful part of the class, and it was the part that many people failed.”
Crean describes the dog’s reaction to detecting an explosive. The dog will start walking side to side, turning around when they have reached the limit of the odor, almost in the shape of a funnel. It is through this technique that soldiers are able to know the direction and usually the distance of the improvised explosive device.
The handler and dog teams rotate through all the larger forward operating bases and smaller outposts to assist as many Rakkasans as they can.
“These dogs work ahead of the troops,” said Crean. “They work really hard to keep us out of harm’s way.”
“The dog’s body language says it all,” said Phillips. “It can be something small like the slight perking of their ears or something big like the movement and speed of their tail.”
“Dogs have proved to the best asset to have in finding improvised explosive devices,” said Phillips, who has been in the army 11 years and deployed multiple times. “I saw a few dogs in Iraq, but not nearly as many as I have seen on this deployment.”
There are 13 dogs within 3rd Brigade and their assistance is spread among most of the troops when they are out on missions.
“In December and January, the TEDD dogs had more explosive finds in country than any other programs,” said Crean.
“We go out with the infantrymen, the scouts and really anyone who would like to have our assistance while out on patrol,” said Clark. “These dogs have saved lives.”
Dogs with the TEDD program are not the only dogs working at Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan.
AMK9 is a civilian dog handling company hired by the Department of Defence.
“The only difference between our dogs and the dogs working with soldiers is that we handle the work on the operating bases and outposts and their dogs work outside on missions,” said Kevin Campbell, the kennel master assigned to FOB Salerno. “I have 10 dogs that work in the area of operations here.”
Dogs assigned to AMK9 conduct operations on deployed military installations, their operations include, but are not limited to, vehicle inspections, drug related operations, security and escorting personnel.
“Our dogs have to meet the same standards as the dogs working with the army,” said Campbell. “Our missions are just on installations, not outside on missions.”
Deployed dogs, whether they are assigned to the military or work with a civilian company, have played a large role for the Rakkasans; from assisting them on missions to protection while on a FOB or COP.
Though they are here for work, soldiers working through the TEDD program can’t help but bond and grow attached to their canine partners.
“My dog, Spc. Hugo, in a nutshell, is bipolar, clumsy and such a goofball. But I don’t think I have a bond as strong with anyone else but him,” said Clark. “Even fellow soldiers I have known since the start of my career, none come close to the bond I have with Hugo.”
“My dog, Sgt. Misa is amazing,” said Crean. “He is really timid, he will scare himself all the time but he is the most loving dog I have ever met.”
“Rocky is just a big baby,” said Phillips. “He thinks he’s a lap dog, but he’s such a sweet heart.”
“He loves working and he really loves playing,” Phillips continued. “Even though they are working dogs, in order to perform better, they need time to play and just be a dog.”
Looking at all three soldiers with their canine partners you can see the strong bond each team shares as well as the affection, dedication and love each dog shows for their handler.
“I love that dog.” Said Crean. “I really don’t want to give Misa back to the TEDD program when we get back to Fort Campbell.”
“If I could come up with the money, I would buy Rocky from the TEDD program after the deployment, in a heartbeat,” Said Phillips.
“This is the last thing I ever expected to do when I enlisted in the infantry,” said Clark. “But it was a change for the best, I love doing this.”
“Out of my 11 years in the army, this is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said Phillips.
More than 20 dogs work in the Rakkasans area of operations, doing their part in Operation Enduring Freedom.
These dogs are not considered equipment, but fellow service members. They too take part in helping protect currently deployed Rakkasans.
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