News from the Sandbox
Page 4

Trainer Rescues Dog from Fire

Sergeant low-crawls through smoke to save his 
military working dog from blaze!

By Chrissy Zdrakas - 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. , March 16, 2006 - It was a clear, cool night at Forward Operating Base Wilson near the city of Tikrit in central Iraq.  Staff Sgt. Christopher F. McCleskey gave his canine partner, Katja, food and water and left her in their quarters after a mission. 

 He ducked into a dining hall shortly before 9 p.m. Jan. 28 for a quick bite to eat.  A half hour later, the calm shattered when an officer shouted the news:  The building McCleskey shared with his dog and 50 other military members was ablaze.  Black smoke choked the night air.  Katja was trapped.

 "I tried to run into the building, but another sergeant grabbed me and said 'no'.  I told him my dog was inside, and I had to go."  U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher F. McCleskey

"I tried to run into the building, but another sergeant grabbed me and said 'no'.  I told him my dog was inside, and I had to go," McCleskey said.  The building, about 55 yards away, was a converted warehouse.

McCleskey's first sergeant, U. S. Army 1st Sgt. Sean Bailey, stepped in, saying "You have to let him try."  The first sergeant grabbed a fire extinguisher, McCleskey handed his M-4 rifle to another military member and a life-saving mission began.

"We low-crawled all the way to my room due to the smoke being so low," said McCleskey.  "I couldn't see anything but the ceiling tiles on fire."  When the sergeants reached Katja's kennel, they couldn't see the dog through the smoke.

"I yelled for her to come to me," he said.  "She didn't move.  She was lying on the kennel floor and was non-responsive.  So I reached into her kennel, grabbed her collar and hit her just below the rib cage.  I heard her gasp for air as I pulled her out of the building.

"By the time I got her to the road, which was about 25 yards away, she was hacking up her lungs.  I carried her around for a very long time as she still continued to hack."

He reported the injury to the 101st Provost Marshall's Office, and within an hour, Katja's veterinarian was on the phone telling him to be ready to leave in 30 minutes.  McCleskey said he was not injured.

"He (the vet) told me he was nine-lining us out of the area.  Nine- lining means that a soldier is hurt, and we become the priority for the air.  Military working dogs are viewed as soldiers, so if they get hurt, then we do everything in our power to get them out of action and to medical assistance fast."

Before long, a Blackhawk helicopter - vet on board - was landing.

"Katja and I jumped into the Blackhawk, and we flew to Baghdad Airport ," he said.  On the way, the vet gave the dog medication to help her breathe.  When they arrived at the airport, the chief surgeon for military working dogs in Iraq was waiting on the helicopter pad.  A Humvee whisked them off to the vet clinic, where Katja was given a physical and antibiotic treatment. 

"The vet said all she truly needed was rest," McCleskey said.  "After a couple of days, we went to Forward Operating Base Speicher (just outside the city of Tikrit ) where we did our rehabilitation, and after about a week, Katja was improving so well that we went back to FOB Wilson ." FOB Wilson recognizes the value of the man/canine team in its mission.

"Sergeant McCleskey has been a valuable asset to all operations he has gone on," said Bailey.  "His dedication to duty is shown every day through his constant training with his partner MW Dog Katja.  The personal expertise he brings to the job exemplifies the Air Force core values."

The Air Force and Navy have backfilled the Army to help it complete its missions.  Since all handlers in the Defense Department are trained at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas , they can do any job the other services require, McCleskey explained.  At Lackland, handlers receive training to administer to their dogs during emergencies, a life-saver the night of the fire.

"I just reacted to what was in front of me," he said "I didn't even think about what was going on. When I was briefed that the fire was in our building, all I could think about was getting my dog out.  If it happened again, I wouldn't hesitate to do the same thing."

Katja, a 3-year-old Belgium Malinois weighing 63 pounds, is trained to attack and to detect the odor of explosives. She and U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher McCleskey are with the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq assisting the Army in explosives detection. 


Chris and Katja are home now and doing great – both are back at work.


Many of you exchanged e-mails with Chris and a number of us have been so very fortunate to get to know Chris, his family, and especially his wife Stephanie (that’s TSgt Stephanie McCleskey) who is also assigned to the 78th SFS at Moody AFB, Georgia .


One of the first things we did, with the help of Juli Warner of Leatherman, was to supply Chris with a new Leatherman “Surge” tool – now he had the equipment in case of any other emergency that might come up during the remainder of his tour.  Thank you Phil Carroll (NKP/Takhli) for all of your help!


Stephanie helped us pull off another great surprise on June 9, 2006, as Charlie Berry (Udorn) and Charlie Blood (Udorn) traveled from Florida to Louisiana to Georgia to Louisiana and then back to Florida .  All of this at their own expense to help us honor SSgt McCleskey.  The “Charlies” as they are now lovingly known in the McCleskey household, assisted the 78th Wing Commander in honoring Chris in front of his Security Forces Squadron with a plaque that featured one of our VSPA and Thailand Handler Challenge coins and a copy of the Air Force Art Collection “Shaw Photo”.  He was also presented with autographed copies of personal presentations by Country Music entertainer Garth Brooks, also presented by the “Charlies”!  Chris is a BIG FAN!

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Protective “doggles”  

3/7/2006 -  -- Tech. Sgt. John Mascolo and his military working dog, Ajax, await a helicopter pickup outside Forward Operating Base Normandy, Iraq, on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2006. Ajax is wearing "doggles" to prevent sand and debris from getting in his eyes during sandstorms or when near helicopters. The 35th Security Force Squadron Airman and his dog had completed a security sweep of a farmhouse looking for weapons and materials used to make improvised explosive devices. (U.S. Army photo/Pfc. William Servinski II)


Military Working Dog Teams 
Secure the Wing

by Cpl. C. Alex Herron; Marine Corps News; July 12, 2005

AL ASAD, Iraq - When it comes to the security of Al Asad, nothing is left to chance. Cameras, firepower and a team of military working dogs are always ready. The dogs are able to use their noses to sniff out trouble.

The Al Asad military working dog detachment is a joint service unit with Air Force and Marine canines and handlers. The partnership of dog and handler is never ending. When the dog works, the handler works.

"Our job is all about the dogs," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Williamson, one of the Air Force military working dog handlers and Fort Worth, Texas native. "We work daily to ensure our dog is ready for their next assignment. They do all the work. We just take care of them and provide them guidance."

While aboard Al Asad there is no shortage of work for the dog teams. With security being the heart of all of their missions they can not afford to have a dog sidelined for something as preventable as a heat related injury.

"Once the dogs get acclimated, they work on shifts that are generally a couple hours long," Williamson said. "Work and rest cycles are the key to ensuring their safety and well-being throughout the hot summer months. They are too valuable to the military to be taken out of the fight prematurely."

 "It comes down to knowing your dog," said Marine Cpl. Robert La Place, a military working dog handler and Sacramento, Calif., native. "If your dog starts to act different from his normal behavior, something is usually making him feel uncomfortable."

The military working dogs and their handlers work side by side during the day at various security points and flightline. The team also conducts security sweeps special events.

"We ensure the safety and security of buildings, luggage, and vehicles as part of our different missions," La Place said.

Being able to work with the dogs daily allows the handlers to witness how their partners' skills far exceed their expectations.

"Our dogs are dependable partners," Williamson said. "They are aware of things well before the average person is. They are loyal partners who will do anything they can to please us."

Just having the dogs around makes everyone feel safer and helps deter any suspicious behavior, according to the team.

"I think having us around makes everyone feel more at ease about whatever situation they are in," Williamson said. "After we check a vehicle, the probability of a foreign substance being on board is greatly diminished. Usually if the dog is acting like nothing is amiss then everyone follows his lead. If something isn't right the dog will pick up on it well before any of us will."

The military working dog teams split their time among their various missions they are called two perform. By providing security for all personnel here, they are proving to be an essential part of the Al Asad security team. They allow others to concentrate on their jobs without worrying about their basic safety and help the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing continue the mission of supporting ground units throughout the Al Anbar province.

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Military Dogs Get Bulletproof Vests


Associated Press

May 10, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq - On dangerous missions, Sgt. Darren Smith straps a bulletproof vest around the furry chest of his partner, a bomb sniffing dog named Kastor.

 Patrols and checkpoints in Iraq have become so risky that the U.S. Army is issuing bulletproof vests, not just to its soldiers, but also to bomb sniffing dogs to protect them too from roadside bombs and drive-by shootings.

"We need to protect our dogs just like we protect our people," said Staff Sgt. Jarrod Zaleski, the Army kennel master in Iraq. "This is still considered a war situation."

The U.S. Army has some 30 dogs in Iraq, guarding bases and checking cars for explosives. Zaleski says the dogs have uncovered car bombs and have such sensitive noses that one was able to smell an ammunition clip in a woman's pocketbook.

With violence escalating, the Army shipped vests for all of its dogs to Iraq about two weeks ago. War dogs in Afghanistan already have the vests. Soldiers have worn vests since the start of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

"Anything we can do to keep him safe is well worth it," said Smith, a military policeman who searches buildings and works at checkpoints with Kastor, a red and yellow Belgian Malinois, a dog that looks like a small German Shepherd.

Smith and Kastor man checkpoints near the U.S. headquarters in Baghdad and sometimes are sent out to other areas of Baghdad that are potentially more dangerous. For security reasons, Smith would not say when he puts the vest of Kastor.

The tan and green camouflage vest covers Kastor's body, leaving only his head, neck and his hind legs exposed.

 Zaleski said no dogs have been killed in Iraq although several have suffered injuries to their paws while walking through debris or shattered glass.

 On some missions the dogs are now equipped with padded boots to protect their paws from getting cut up.

"Someone just needs to come up with a helmet for dogs and we'd be good," quipped Zaleski.

Keeping the dogs safe is important.

The dogs are needed to sniff out explosives and their keen sense of hearing can detect insurgents near bases long before Army sentries hear them.

The U.S. Army has been using dogs since World War II. Hundreds were killed in Vietnam while on patrols or guarding bases.

 The dogs were so effective in sniffing out bombs and contraband in Afghanistan and in keeping people out of U.S. bases that one warlord put a $10,000 bounty on the dogs, said Sgt. Herman Haynes, of the 89th MP Battalion, who served in Afghanistan.

 Training a dog costs about $50,000, Zaleski said which is one reason why protecting them is critical.

 Five years ago, dog vests weighed some 15 pounds and were too heavy to be practical in most situations. With new technology, vest are now about half that weight.

 The vest are made of Kevlar and protect dogs from shrapnel and handgun bullets.

 Vests that soldiers wear are similar but they also have ceramic plates in the front and back that can stop high caliber rifle bullets. Zaleski said the dog vests would be too heavy with ceramic plates.

 Dog vests cost about $1,200 and most of the animals don't like them.

 Smith, who is from the 95th Military Police Battalion, said he first put a vest on Kastor for just a few minutes day to try and get him use to it. Kastor, who weighs 55 pounds, still has problems walking in the heavy vest.

 "He's still a little clumsy on his feet, but he's getting better," said Smith as he scratched Kastor's neck to keep him calm.

Dog vests, just like vests for people, also keep the heat in. Soldiers sweat so heavily in Baghdad's 100 degree heat that they need to constantly drink.

 Army dogs - mostly Malinois and German Shepherds - are even more uncomfortable.

"Imagine wearing a fur coat in 100 degree heat. The work they can do is limited," Zaleski said.  

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Man's Best Friend 
Patrols Beside Marines

Marine Corps News | Adam C. Schnell | October 18, 2005

HADITHA DAM, Iraq - The use of dogs as guardians of military camps to protect against surprise attacks dates back to ancient Egypt. Today, dogs are not only guarding bases but also patrolling with Marines of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment in Iraq.

Sergeant James J. Wasmer, a Chatham, Mass., native, and his search dog, Euro, are one K-9 team busy doing weapons caches sweeps and entry control point searches to keep citizens of Iraq and Marines safe. Recently the team conducted a sweep with the battalion’s Company L to look for weapons caches and other explosives that might be in the area.

“We didn’t find any weapons caches, but we did find an AK-47 during the sweep,” commented Wasmer, a specialized search dog handler.

To be ready for missions like the ones they are currently involved in, the handler the dog must go through extensive training. The teams go through a training cycle at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas lasting 60 to 90 days, depending on the dog, said Wasmer.

“They are taught to associate a scent with a treat or toy when searching for explosives,” he said. “When they smell an explosive, they sit. As soon as he sits, he will get a treat.”

For the handler, an extra four months after military police school is spent in a military working dog course at the Air Force base. They learn how the dogs are trained and how to be one of the few in the unique job field.

“When I heard that I could be a dog handler for the Marine Corps, I jumped at the chance because it sounded like a really cool job to have,” said the 1995 graduate of Chatham High School. “I always liked dogs and thought it would give me a chance to do something besides basic MP things.”

Even though being a dog handler is a rewarding and unique job field in the Marines, there is a lot of extra work involved. When deployed, they live with the dogs and care for them 24 hours a day.

“It is almost like having a two year-old around all the time,” said Wasmer, chuckling. “They are very demanding and it is a seven-day-a-week job, even in the rear.”

In the rear, meaning at bases in the United States, is where he has spent almost seven years working with dogs searching vehicles at the gates and on bases for drugs and explosives. He has spent the last eight months in Iraq and his job has changed a lot.

“We do improvised explosive device hunts and continuing to work sweeping areas for weapons caches,” he commented. “We have already found 155 mm rounds and other weapons since we got out here. So hopefully we will find more.”

With approximately 50 Marine and Air Force specialized military search dog teams operating on different military bases in Iraq, the dogs are being used more and more. According to Wasmer, the dogs were not always used in deployed areas.

“They tried using the dogs for the same reason back in 1991, but it didn’t work that well,” he said. “So when [Operation Iraqi Freedom] came around, the Marine Corps decided to try and use the dogs again.”

Wasmer does not just use Euro to patrols with the Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. When he is not on a mission, he walks the dog around the camp to let Marines pet and play with him.

“It is a really great morale booster for the Marines,” he said. “It reminds some of them of home. They always say to me how much they miss their dogs back home.” 

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Military Working Dogs Essential Tool
 in Iraq Mission

by Cpl. Christi Prickett; Marine Corps News; May 03, 2005

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq - When people talk about the United States Armed Forces, images of light-footed Marines or large Naval ships may come to mind. Not often mentioned are the nonhuman counterparts within the ranks.

Military working dogs first entered the service in March of 1942 to serve in the Army's "K-9" Corps. Today, the dogs, who have an actual military service record book assigned to them, are still playing an active role in searching for explosives and seizing the enemy.

Master Gunnery Sgt. Samuel G. Colon, provost sergeant Multi National Force - West, and sergeant major of 2nd Military Police Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD), is in charge of making sure the dogs are safe when they are out with Marines and Sailors on missions.

"Our battalion provides well trained military working dogs and handlers," said Colon, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native. "The dogs here are used to support the Marine Air Ground Task Force, first and foremost."

Daily dog duties include trips to entry control points, maneuver and mobility support operations, cordon and knocks, main supply route security and mandatory training.

 "If someone is being belligerent, the dogs can sense it," said Hansen. "The handler assesses the situation and if we feel the need to go further, the dog will do so when given the commands."

Obedience is the first priority of the handlers, said Hansen.

"From day one, trust and rapport are essential between the dogs and their handlers," said Hansen. "It's like the dogs know we're going to be there for them the same way they're there for us."

The dog handlers are responsible for feeding, grooming and veterinary appointments. The Army provides all veterinary needs at the kennels.

"I was a dog handler a long time ago," said Colon, with a smile. "I have a special bond with all my Marines, but especially with the dogs and their handlers."

The main purpose of the military working dogs is to alleviate positions where a service member would have to be put in harms way.

"Our dogs keep Marines and Sailors alive," said Lt. Col. Richard A. Anderson, commanding officer, 2nd MP Bn., II MEF (FWD). "Whatever the commanding general deems as our main effort, we are there. We are tremendously flexible."

Sandbox News 5




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