News from the Sandbox
Page 2

Military Working Dogs Keeping Troops Safe

By Spc. Chris McCann, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

 CAMP STRIKER, Iraq, March 22, 2007 – The terrorist is quiet during the search, letting Army Sgt. Harold Corey pat him down all along one side. But when Corey gets to his right hip, the terrorist shoves at him. It's less than a second before Wandor's huge mouthful of teeth is clamped around the terrorist's arm and Corey is out of danger, telling the dog "away!" to make him release the man's arm  


Army Chief Warrant Officer Julio Hall, a supply systems technician with the 210th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), is tackled by military working dog Wandor while wearing a padded bite suit during a demonstration at Camp Striker, Iraq, on March 19. Photo by Spc. Chris McCann, USA  

 It's just a simulation and a chance for Wandor to play; "the terrorist" -- actually 1st Lt. Timothy Owens, the executive officer for Company A, 210th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) -- is just trying out the "bite suit" used by dog trainers.

But even playing, Wandor, a Belgian Malinois, can take down a grown man in seconds, running at 30 miles per hour and exerting 1,400 pounds per square inch of bite pressure.

"It was really cool," said Owens, a native of Corpus Christi, Texas. "It was surprising how the dog looks so lean, but one twist, and he took me down. They're a great asset for enforcement and detection."

Corey, a native of Newport News, Va., has been working with dogs for three years with the 529th Military Police Company, based out of Heidelberg, Germany.

"I enjoy it," Corey said of the March 19 practice session, which was attended by several 210th BSB soldiers. "It's never not exciting to watch a dog take someone down."

The 2nd BCT, based here, has several attached handlers with dogs that accompany brigade missions every day.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hart, a native of Syracuse, N.Y., and the BCT's provost marshal, explained that most of the dogs that work with the brigade are trained to seek explosives. But they are also adept at "combat tracking." While a human usually requires hearing two shots to pinpoint the direction of origin, dogs can point to the origin after only one shot, a skill that is critical when a sniper is shooting. Once the dog finds the shooter's hiding place, he can track the person and even pick him out of a lineup.

There are also patrol narcotics dogs, used during health-and-welfare inspections of troops, and dogs trained to seek bodies, Hart said.

The dogs are well-trained and well-kept, Hart explained. "They have veterinary coverage twenty-four seven," he said. "And there's medical evacuation coverage, as well, just like there is for humans. They're out there risking their lives too; it's only fair."

The handlers know basic first aid and life-support skills for the dogs, and a veterinarian is at the helipad waiting if a dog comes in injured.

So far, Hart said, the handlers haven't needed to medically evacuate a dog. One was killed in the line of duty while searching a house; an air-conditioning unit he jumped onto had an exposed high-powered wire on it. Other than that, he explained, they have had only minor injuries, such as cut paws.

And while the handlers haven't "let slip the dogs of war" -- as in Mark Antony's famous speech in William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" --, the animals have provided very tangible benefits for the brigade, sniffing out explosives and weaponry.

"They're a force multiplier," Corey said. "They can do the searching of five or six soldiers and do with their nose what a soldier has to do by prodding and digging. They make the job easier. Also, they're a visual deterrent; the local nationals are scared of them, so they're more cooperative."

Corey said that Wandor has found several weapons while helping on cordon-and-search missions. "He finds weapons in houses even before the homeowners turn them over to us," Corey said.

Instead of having to move everything in a house, he just sniffs around, and when he finds something, he sits. Then we just have to move one thing to get to the weapons."

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Shannon Bragg, a native of Denver, Colo., who is assigned to a San Diego-based deployable canine unit, is also attached to the 2nd BCT.

While Bragg has been working with dogs for several years, the one assigned to him now -- "Don," a German shepherd -- is fresh from school at Lackland Air Force Base, near San Antonio.

"He's a 'green' dog," Bragg explained. "His detection skills are much better than his aggression. He's got a great nose on him. But he's young, only 3, and he's still in the puppy stage."

Don showed his prowess at finding pieces of detonation cord hidden in the 210th BSB's supply yard, hunkering down as he caught a whiff of explosive and then sitting as soon as he found the source.

All of the hard training works, Corey explained, because the dogs think of the job as a game.

"A dog is like a 5-year-old child," he said. "To get a kid to do something, you make it fun."

The object of the game for Wandor -- as it is for almost every other military working dog -- is a beehive-shaped rubber toy called a "Kong." If he finds explosives, he gets to play. Corey explained that the dogs are trained to understand that finding the object of their search might take awhile, but if a mission is fruitless for too long, he's prepared with a piece of detonation cord.

"I'll hand it to someone else and ask them to hide it for me," Corey said. Wandor can then find the cord and win some quality time playing with his Kong before moving on and continuing the quest.

"I always carry training aids to refresh his interest," Corey said.

Athough it may be like a game for the dog, the perspective is different on the other side of those sharp teeth.

After being bitten through the padded bite suit, Army Chief Warrant Officer Julio Hall, a native of Grafton, N.H., and a supply systems technician with the 210th BSB, said he had more respect for the dogs' power and for the capabilities they provide against terrorists.

"The dog took me down right away," he said. "The dog itself is pretty intimidating. If I was an insurgent, I'd be petrified."

(Army Spc. Chris McCann is assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division.)  

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K9 Team Brings Special Skills to the Fight

By Spc. Amanda Morrissey
5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

SHUKRAN, Iraq–  For just about every cordon and search operation in Iraq, there is a special two-Soldier team that provides an extra sense to the efforts to find anti-Iraqi forces and hidden weapons. One of those teams at Forward Operating Base Q-West is Staff Sgt. Chuck Shuck and his dog, Sgt. 1st Class Gabe, both with 178th Military Police Detachment, 720th Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade.

On this particular morning, Shuck and Gabe are helping Battery A, 5th Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment Soldiers search the nearby village of Shukran for any weapons that may be hidden in the area.

 “The dog has a nose like no human has, that’s just a given,” Shuck said. “A dog is able to smell stuff that humans can’t smell because they can pick up on residue and stuff like that. Even if Soldiers miss something, 95 percent of the time the dog is going to pick up on it.”  

Gabe and Shuck have also seen their fair share of action in theater.

“Last month, we were on a raid with Alpha Battery, 5/82 FA, and a guy started shooting through the door. Gabe and I were right there in the thick of things with them, and it was pretty amazing,” Shuck said. “Gabe actually got put in for a Combat Action Badge.”

Such skills take a lot of training, both for the dog and its handler. They go through a five-month training course at Lackland Air Force Base, where the dogs receive obedience and detection training. Soldiers learn how to work with the dogs and how to care for the health of their canine partners. At the end of the course, the dog and the handler certify as a team and graduate together.

            “These dogs are trained to clear open areas, buildings, routes and vehicles, and they’re able to work off leash,” Shuck said. “We also train with the dogs in school to react to gunfire, so that pretty much doesn’t faze them.” 

Gabe is unique because he is a specialized search dog, meaning he will respond to the commands of his handler without the guidance of a leash. He is one of approximately 300 dogs with such training in all branches of the military.

Graduation from the schoolhouse doesn’t mark the end of training for these teams. Each month, they conduct 16 hours of mandatory detection training to keep the dogs proficient in their skills, as well as daily exercises, said Shuck.

However, Gabe is more than just an extra-sensitive nose to the Soldiers he works with.

“I can see from working with the units here just having the presence of the dog there is a morale booster for Soldiers,” Shuck said. “Gabe is like the mascot of the battalion, and everybody knows him.”

Gabe is also a morale booster for his partner. While in Iraq, Shuck and Gabe are roommates and constant companions, going just about everywhere together.

“The dogs really do become you’re best friend, your partner,” Shuck said. “Gabe is loyal, and he’s trustworthy. You always have a companion in the dog. If I’m having a bad day, he turns it into a good day. There’s nothing that beats having a dog as a partner.”


   Photo - Staff Sgt. Chuck Shuck (right) and his partner, Sgt. 1st Class Gabe, both with 178th Military Police Detachment, 20th Military Police Battalion, search a home during a cordon and search operation in the village of Shukran, near Forward Operating Base Q-West.

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Marine dog handlers in Iraq
 mourn death of colleague

Sgt. Adam L. Cann killed in suicide blast in Ramadi

By Monte Morin, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Monday, January 9, 2006


RAMADI, Iraq — Marine Sgt. Adam L. Cann had less than two months to go before he finished his second tour in Iraq, and the 23-year-old military dog handler told friends that he and his trusty German Shepherd, Bruno, would be right back for a third.

“He loved it out here,” said fellow Marine dog handler Cpl. Allen Swartwoudt, 27, of Austin, Texas. “He was looking forward to coming back immediately.”

Cann, a native of Davie, Fla., died Thursday as he was helping to control crowds outside of an Iraqi police recruitment and screening center at the sprawling Ramadi Glass Factory. He was attached to the 2nd Military Police Battalion, 2nd Force Services Support Group, the Marine Corps said.

A disturbance had broken out among hundreds of police volunteers late Thursday morning after warning shots were fired at an approaching vehicle. Cann, Bruno and two other dog handlers and their hounds had just helped to restore order before a suicide bomber detonated an explosives vest, killing Cann, Army Lt. Col. Michael E. McLaughlin, 27 Iraqi police volunteers and two Iraqi army soldiers.

The blast also injured the two other dog handlers and their dogs.

Bruno suffered injuries as well. He will be flown back to the U.S. for treatment and returned to service if he fully recovers.

On Sunday, friends described Cann as a dedicated and knowledgeable dog handler who could never sit for very long inside camp. He was happiest when he and his dog were outside the wire, hard at work, they said.

“He did it for the guy next to him,” said Cpl. Brian Treille, 22, another dog handler from Hardin, Texas. “He was always about being out there with the fellas. He didn’t have to come out here. He could have been a trainer back home.”

While military dog handlers back in the U.S. usually place their dogs in kennels for the evening, handlers in Iraq live with their animals full time. “They’re kind of like house pets — they sleep on your bed, you feed them beef jerky,” Swartwoudt said.

In Cann’s case, his relationship was even closer. He had worked with Bruno for five or six years, including a tour in Afghanistan. “He’d been with Bruno for quite a while,” Treille said.

Military dog handlers in Iraq are a small but close-knit group, and word of Cann’s death left them stunned. Their mission is to assist in crowd control and raids and to sniff out explosives.

Cann’s friends said that up until recently, their tours had been without serious injury or death. This deployment, though, has been different. In addition to Cann’s death, another dog handler was shot by a sniper two months ago. He survived.

“Because there are only a few of us, it seems improbable or unlikely this would happen to any of us,” Swartwoudt said. “It seems like we do our job and go home.”

Treille and Swartwoudt were planning a memorial service for Jan. 14. On a laptop computer, they clicked through photos of Cann and Bruno on missions and playing around.

Cann told them that when he finished with the Marines, he was considered moving back to Florida to open up a restaurant with his brother — a bar and grill.

Up until a few days ago, though, Cann’s retirement from K-9 operations seemed a long way off.

“He loved dog training,” Trielle said. “He took it very seriously. I’ve never met a better Marine doing what he did.”

Note: Cann was awarded a posthumous Bronze Star with a combat "V" device for valor. Officials say he is the first K-9 handler killed in action since the Vietnam War.

Sandbox News 3




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