Anyone who knows me is well aware that I have a great love of our military and a great love of dogs, especially the German shepherd.
Our family has a 4-year-old shepherd, Apollo. (He is affectionately known around here as just “The Boy.”) That’s him over there on the right. These dogs are loyal, protective, highly trainable and always looking for ways to please their masters.
Our military, dating back to the Civil War, has been using dogs in warfare for more than 100 years. It is estimated that dogs saved the lives of more than 10,000 troops in the Vietnam War. While the military has used multiple breeds, such as the Belgian Malinois and Labrador, the German shepherd, more often than not, is the dog of choice.
Military dogs are placed in an intensive training program that teaches them how to use their expert noses to sniff out danger such as chemicals in bombs and IEDs, find injured soldiers or civilians in search-and-rescue missions, and locate hidden drugs.
While dogs in general have a sensitivity to smell 40 times that of a human, the nose of a Belgian Malinois or German shepherd is a remarkable 250 times more sensitive than ours because of the breeds’ long snouts. They have about 220 million scent cells, which give the dogs much more information than we humans could ever hope to obtain with a whiff. They can smell the enemy up to two miles away.
Canines are even better than machines at detecting faint odors.
“Dogs find stuff that our sniffing technology can’t find,” says Marine gunnery Sgt. Greg Massey, who is in charge of the Military Working Dog Program at the U.S. Marine Corps headquarters in Virginia.
The Navy Seals have married dogs with technology, choosing Canadian consultant K-9 Storm to outfit their dogs in high-tech gear. K-9 Storm’s version of doggie body armor is called the “Intruder” and costs $20,000 to $30,000 apiece. In 2010, the Seals spent $86,000 to outfit their four-legged brothers-in-arms.
The tactical body armor is not only bulletproof, but it is also wired with a collapsible high-definition video camera arm, two-way audio and other attachable gadgets. It’s also waterproof. The entire communications system weighs less than 20 oz. The camera can switch to night vision, so whether it’s day or night, the handler can see what the dog sees.
Cairo, either a Belgian Malinois or a German shepherd (because of security reasons, the military won’t say for sure), has been dubbed the nation’s most courageous dog. She served alongside 79 of our Navy Seals when they took out Osama bin Laden. She was the only four-legged member of the team. Cairo is also credited with holding the world’s record for a dog parachuting at 30,100 feet with an oxygen mask.
Sadly, the Department of Defense had a policy of euthanizing these dogs after their usefulness of service ran its course. The 106th Congress passed a bill, H.R. 5314, allowing former handlers, law enforcement agencies and civilians to adopt the dogs and save them from premature death. On Nov. 6, 2000, the measure was signed into law.
H.R. 5314 describes its mission this way: “To require the immediate termination of the Department of Defense practice of euthanizing military working dogs at the end of their useful working life and to facilitate the adoption of retired military working dogs by law enforcement agencies, former handlers of these dogs, and other persons capable of caring for these dogs.”
To adopt a military working dog, the Lackland Air Force Base has a program to place them in proper homes. We’re talking heroes here, so there is an application process, and the screening is stringent.
I leave you with this visual to demonstrate how important these dogs are to our troops and how bravely they serve our country: