I arrived at the PLX a few days ago, and was surprised to find a German shepard sniffing around. He was calm and methodical, moved from desk to desk, checked our gun locker and moved onto the boxes of food under the back table. He sniffed over beef jerky, salami, twinkies, and pringles and smoothly moved onto the file cabinet. His handler was a young troop who stood in the center of our area and pivoted to watch the dog sweep the full circle of the PLX. I asked "What is he looking for?" The soldier answered "He is just checking the area." I'm just glad he wasn't looking for jerky, he would have had a fight on his hands. There are many working military dogs in the AOR (Area of Responsibility) and they help the troops in various ways. They can sniff out explosives, drugs, or hiding humans. They are also a non-lethal method of stopping an aggressor.
There is a housing facility on our base for the "Dogs of War" where they have air conditioned quarters, regular meals, and a fenced-in play and training area. They are well cared for, but still there is much danger in their lives. There was a training exercise in which a dog had to locate a small amount of C4 explosive. Unfortunately, the dog consumed a small amount of the explosive. C4 is poisonous and the dog could not be saved. His handler was unconsolable. Recently, we had to manifest one of the dogs of war on an air evacuation mission. He had suffered a stroke, as occasionally occurs with the breed. His handler requested and received permission to accompany him on his journey back to the United States. It is very unlikely that the dog could return to duty. His handler made it known that he wanted to adopt the dog and care for him now that he could no longer serve.
The other night we had a trauma code. When we reported to the ED, there was a troop in one bed, and a military working dog in the next. Both of them had minor shrapnel injures and were resting comfortably. The dog had a bandage wrapped loosly around a wound on his neck. He lay calmly and obediently, allowing himself to be examined. The injured handler seemed oblivious to his own wounds and remained attentive to his canine, asking for updates and explanations of necessary treatment. They will both return to duty.
These loyal animals question not the reasons or motivations for this war. They have been trained, and they serve true to their training. They can pay a great price for their service and we owe it to them to value their lives and devotion.
All this talk of dogs makes me miss my pooch back home. His greatest skill seems to be passing toys through his digestive system, but I miss the fuzzball all the same!