News from the Sandbox
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Returning to Serve, Sniff
Sensitive Noses No. 1 Weapon Against Bombs

By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 29, 2009

Rambo sounds the warning as soon as the kennel door at Bolling Air Force Base creaks open, a ferocious, thunderous bark as loud and persistent as a jackhammer. In the next stalls, Rocky goes berserk, spinning in tight circles like a top, and Jess, ears perked, bounces excitedly up and down.
Then there's Timi. He stays silent, his head bowed, ears bent. He stands motionless, averting his gaze.
Timi has always been the oddball of the kennel in Southwest Washington, "the quirky one," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Timothy Evans, his trainer. The dog is also an Iraq war veteran, and according to his medical file, he has nightmares "characterized by violent kicking." His veterinarian says he has had "readjustment issues" since coming home -- although not severe enough to prevent him from returning to the field.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't just forcing thousands of soldiers and Marines to deploy for two and three tours. The sacrifice is being shared by a key, and growing, part of the U.S. military: highly trained German shepherds and Belgian Malinois. In a war with no front lines, they have become valuable at sniffing out makeshift bombs, which cause most U.S. casualties.
The use of dogs in war, whether as scouts, sentries or trackers, goes back hundreds of years. But since Sept. 11, 2001, the Defense Department has increased the number of military dogs from 1,320 to 2,025, and many have served multiple tours.
Some service members say the dogs' ability to sniff out bombs and insurgents makes them as indispensable as a rifle or flak jacket. And they believe that the dogs' heroism should be rewarded.
The U.S. War Dogs Association is trying to persuade the Pentagon to create a medal for dogs. Another group is pushing for a military working dog memorial in the Washington area. And the Humane Society, which criticized the Pentagon during the Vietnam War, when many dogs were left behind or euthanized, has credited the military with working to find retirement homes for them.
Like new recruits, the dogs enter the military through boot camp, where they learn the canine version of soldiering: basic obedience and how to detect explosives, navigate obstacle courses and sneak up on a house without barking. They are exposed to the rat-tat-tat of rifles, loud noises and explosions so they can learn to stay cool under fire. Although they are taught to bite and hold the enemy, they are not trained to kill, officials said. By the time they are ready to hit the battlefield, the Pentagon has invested $15,000 in each dog.
It's impossible to estimate how many lives the dogs have 0saved, said Master Sgt. Robert Tremmel, manager of the Air Force's working dogs program at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where the dogs -- and dog trainers from different branches of the military -- are initially trained.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, "they're finding ammunition," he said. "They're finding weapons -- AK-47s and caches and a lot of unexploded ordnance. . . . They're invaluable."
But there have also been numerous accounts of dogs being used to intimidate detainees during interrogations in Iraq and elsewhere. One of the most notorious photos from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was of a dog handler holding a dog inches from a detainee's face. The handler was one of two soldiers convicted of using dogs to intimidate detainees.
And officials at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, began using dogs to intimidate detainees during interrogations in late 2002, after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved techniques that used "detainees' individual phobias [such as fear of dogs] to induce stress," according to a military memo Rumsfeld signed in December 2002.
At Andrews Air Force Base, which has the largest K-9 unit in the region, two dog teams recently deployed. In addition to military dogs, 38 contractor dog teams are in Afghanistan and about 140 dogs across Iraq. Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, 11 military dogs have been killed in combat, Tremmel said.
Former Air Force Tech Sgt. Harvey Holt and his dog, Jackson, (officially it's "Jjackson," with the double "J" signifying that he was bred by the Defense Department) were pinned down by sniper fire in 2006 while on patrol outside Baquba, north of Baghdad. During a break in the fire, he took his dog, a Belgian Malinois, through the field to find the sniper. Jackson picked up a scent, sprinted toward a bale of hay, jumped in head first and pulled the sniper out by his calf, Holt said.
Like other handlers, Holt, who is now a police officer in Indiana, was often attached to many different units, depending on who needed a canine's special capabilities. As a result, Holt didn't form the "band of brothers" bonds with other soldiers, but rather with his dog. On cold nights, they shared a sleeping bag.
"We were two heads poking out of the bag," he said. "If it weren't for the dog, I probably wouldn't have made it emotionally there. The bond and trust I had in that dog was more than with any human being." After Holt handed Jackson off to the next handler, he came to miss him so much that he got a tattoo of Jackson on his left leg.
During his six-month tour in Iraq last year, Timi, a 5-year-old German shepherd, found about 100 pounds of explosive material, Evans said, including a 130mm shell full of homemade explosives.
Timi "is all business," he said. "A real foot soldier." Tough and no-nonsense, he has always been more reserved than the other dogs. He took his time eating. He seemed to look at people out of the corners of his eyes, Evans said, following them. "He's calculating."
But a few months into the deployment, Timi started thrashing about in his sleep, Evans said.
"It was almost like he was having a seizure in his sleep," Evans said. "This was not like he was chasing a little bunny rabbit. He was kicking the . . . kennel down. . . . When I got him out of it, he'd have that bewildered look, and it would take him a minute to know where he was. Then he'd fall back asleep, and it would happen again and again."
For two years, Walter Burghardt, chief of behavioral medicine at the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Veterinary Service, has been studying the effects of combat on dogs. Although he doesn't like to use the term post-traumatic stress disorder with dogs, war can affect them emotionally, he said. In some cases, antidepressants have worked, he said, as have more playtime and more time performing the tasks they were trained to do.
Timi's episodes did not affect his ability to work, which is when he seemed happiest, Evans said. Since coming home, Timi has shown great progress, although in the kennel he is more subdued than the others.
Still, Timi is one of the stars at Bolling, and his workload in the past several months has included trips to Camp David for the former president, to Paris for the former first lady and to New York in advance of an appearance by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on the "Late Show With David Letterman," Evans said.
Now he's on his way back to Iraq, the second of what could be several tours. Army Capt. Amos Peterson, his veterinarian, signed off on Timi's ability to deploy.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Brandon L. Gaines, his new handler, said there is no one he would rather deploy with.
"It's written all over him," he said of Timi. "He's ready to go back."
Staff writer Josh White contributed to this report.


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Marine working dog to receive Purple Heart

The Associated Press
Posted : Friday Feb 1, 2008 6:28:26 EST

QUITMAN, Miss. — Lex, the former bomb-sniffing dog of the late Marine Cpl. Dustin Lee, will be given a Purple Heart next month at the Working Dog and Fallen K-9 Handler Tribute.

Eight-year-old Lex was working with Lee when the Marine was killed during a bombing in Iraq last year. The German shepherd was also injured. He has since been retired and lives with Lee’s family in Clarke County, Miss. Lee and Lex had been assigned to the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Ga.

The tribute will be Feb. 16 at the Air Armament Museum, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Lee’s family is scheduled to be on hand for the event.

In December, the Marine Corps announced Lex could go home to Lee’s family. It is the first time the military has granted a dog early retirement to be adopted by someone other than a former handler.

The military has more than 1,700 dogs that work alongside American troops, including about 260 in the Marines. Their bomb-sniffing skills have been in high demand in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Working Dog Association said dogs have worked with the military beginning with World War II. The association said three working dogs and four handlers, including Lee, have been killed in action.

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Dogs of War Play Key Role in Iraq

by Gloria Hillard  (National Public Radio)

Photo Above: Sgt. Benjamin Maple visits Arco at the kennel. He served in Iraq with Arco for two years and says he hopes to adopt him one day.

March 3, 2008 · About 1,000 of the military personnel who have served on the front lines of the war in Iraq look quite different from the rest. They are dogs. Mostly Belgian Malinois and German shepherds, some Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers, these war canines are trained to take bullets for their comrades, detect roadside bombs and sniff out other dangers.

They typically serve the Department of Defense for 10 to 13 years, often with longer and more frequent deployments than their handlers. Three have been killed this time around in Iraq, and many more have been seriously wounded. Consequently, they sometimes need a little R and R. Camp Pendleton in southern California is where they get it. "They deploy and they come back, that's a rough time for them and they're stressed out just the way we get stressed out," explains Marine Sgt. Benjamin Maple, a trainer at Camp Pendleton's canine unit. At his feet, "Corporal Jerry," a Belgian Malinois, wags his tail.

Maple has been deployed to Iraq three times. He has seen a lot, he says, but when he talks about his other dog, Star, something changes in his eyes. "I almost walked on an IED but he was ahead of me, he saved my life. He saved the lives of a couple Marines that were with me," he says. "That dog has seen more combat, he puts me to shame. I actually named my daughter after him, I just had a baby girl and I got his name tattooed on my arm."

Challenges of Dog Deployment

Dogs like Star are rotated from handler to handler throughout the years. The breaking of these well-established bonds is the toughest part of being in the canine unit, says Lance Cpl. Justin Granado. "You come back, and they take you off that dog and put you with another dog, and you spend a lot of time and go through what you go through. It's tough. He sleeps with you at night, and you do everything together. It's like taking your best friend away," he says.

Dogs are not new to battle. Four-legged soldiers and Marines have served the U.S. military in many capacities since World War I. The challenge in Iraq, however, is the weather. Blowing sand and scorching 130-degree heat take a toll on the dogs. "It gets to the point where a lot of the 'grunts' help out," Maple says. "You're going on a 10-mile walking patrol, they'll come up — 'Hey, we'll carry some water for your dog.' "

Morale Boost

There is more than explosive-detecting practicality to the dog forces. Canines can be morale boosters, Maple says. "It gives them some kind of remembrance of back home, their dog back home that they haven't seen. And it makes them a little bit happier," he says. The grassy obstacle course of Camp Pendleton's canine training unit is a far cry from Iraq or even Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where the dogs undergo training. Camp Pendleton is simply a peaceful intermediary. And soon the dogs — affectionately assigned ranks above those of their handlers — will return to Iraq.

Maple has a plan for 80-pound Arco, whom he served with in Iraq for two years. If and when the dog, currently recovering from an injury at Pendleton, makes it back from his next trip to the front lines, he says, he will bring the dog home. If Arco comes up for adoption, as the dogs usually do, Maple says, "I'm going to be the first one calling: 'Hey, I want that dog.' "

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Elmendorf AFB K-9 Handler 
receives Bronze Star for Valor

  12/14/2007 - ELMENDORF AFB, Alaska -- Two members of Team Elmendorf were recipients of the Bronze Star Medal Dec. 4.

 Tech. Sgt. Christopher Barker and his military working dog, Jack, and Capt. Kelley Jeter were awarded the Bronze Star Medal.

 The Bronze Star Medal is awarded to members of military service for combat heroism or meritorious service.

 Two recipients of the Bronze Star were a security forces NCO and his military working dog.

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ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Staff Sgt. Christopher Barker, 3rd Security Forces Squadron K-9 handler, shows Jack, a military working dog, appreciation during a ceremony here Dec. 4. Sergeant Barker and MWD Jack received the Bronze Star for support they provided while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Sergeant Barker and Jack were sweeping for a weapons cache in an Iraqi field in June 2006, when they discovered 2,000 pounds of explosives buried in eight locations. The cache was set as a trap with an armed anti-personnel mine. Finding this mine possibly saved the life of a Soldier. Throughout Sergeant Barker’s and Jack’s deployment, they conducted more than 350 hours of combat patrols, in which they located more than 3,000 pounds of explosives, 76 automatic weapons and 16 cell phones used for IEDs. The Bronze Star is awarded for bravery, acts of merit, or meritorious service. When awarded for bravery, it is the fourth-highest combat award of the U.S. Armed Forces and the ninth highest military award (including both combat and noncombat awards) in the order of precedence of U.S. military decorations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jonathan Steffen)


Sergeant Baker and Jack, 3rd Security Forces Squadron, deployed from May 28 through Oct. 30, 2006, provided more than 350 hours of combat patrols in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They were awarded the Bronze Star for bravery, the fourth-highest combat honor in the U.S. Armed Forces.

 On June 7, the team located more than 2,000 pounds of explosives in eight buried locations. Six weeks later, Sergeant Barker and his MWD responded to a detonator of timed explosives in one of the third country national's living quarters.

On July 30, the team responded to an IED that detonated on IA personnel. The IA had engaged and captured four IED members. Sergeant Barker swept the IED vehicle and located five identification cards. Sergeant Barker scanned the crowd of bystanders and located the fifth member attempting to avoid capture by blending into the crowd.

 During their deployment, Sergeant Barker and Jack discovered more than 3,000 pounds of explosives, nearly 80 automatic weapons and more than 15 cell phones used to detonate improvised explosive devices.  

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