“Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House.” — Calvin Coolidge
Fox News reports that President Obama on Friday met with the assault forces who carried out the strike on Osama bin Laden, awarding them a Presidential Unit Citation and praising them for a "job well done."
After the president's private meeting with those Navy SEALs at Fort Campbelll in Kentucky, he delivered a rousing speech to about 2,200 troops recently back from Afghanistan -- where the fighting and search for an endgame continues despite the death of the terrorist who masterminded the killing of nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001.
I have one question for Mr. Obama, what about the dog?
Dogs have been fighting alongside U.S. soldiers for more than 100 years, seeing combat in the Civil War and World War I. But their service was informal; only in 1942 were canines officially inducted into the U.S. Army. Today, they're a central part of U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan — as of early 2010 the U.S. Army had 2,800 active-duty dogs deployed (the largest canine contingent in the world). And these numbers will continue to grow as these dogs become an ever-more-vital military asset.
So it should come as no surprise that among the 79 commandos involved in Operation Neptune Spear that resulted in Osama bin Laden's killing, there was one dog — the elite of the four-legged variety. And though the dog in question remains an enigma — another mysterious detail of the still-unfolding narrative of that historic mission — there should be little reason to speculate about why there was a dog involved: Man's best friend is a pretty fearsome warrior.
According to a New York Times report; “The tensest moment for those watching, he said, came when one of two helicopters that flew the American troops into the compound broke down, stalling as it flew over the 18-foot wall of the compound and prepared to land. After the raid, the team blew up the helicopter and called in one of two backups. In all, 79 commandos and a dog were involved.”
According to Mike Dowling, a former Marine Corps dog handler who served in Iraq, there's a simple explanation for why the Navy SEALs took a dog along on the Osama raid: "A dog's brain is dominated by olfactory senses." In fact, Dowling says, a dog can have up to 225 million olfactory receptors in their nose — the part of their brain devoted to scent is 40 times greater than that of a human.
"When you're going on a mission," Dowling says, "a raid or a patrol, insurgents are sneaky — they like to hide stuff from you. But a dog can smell them. .... [Think about] Saddam Hussein ... what if Osama had been [hiding] in a hole in the ground? A dog could find that. A dog could alert them to where he's hiding because of the incredible scent capabilities. ... You can only see what you can see. You can't see what you don't see. A dog can see it through his nose."
Military working dogs (MWDs in Army parlance) may not enjoy all the privileges of being full-fledged soldiers, but the U.S. military no longer considers them mere equipment. (The war dogs deployed to Vietnam during that conflict were classified as "surplus equipment" and left behind.) Today, MWDs are outfitted with equipment of their own — a range of specialized gear that includes Doggles (protective eye wear), body armor, life vests, gas masks, long-range GPS-equipped vests, and high-tech canine "flak jackets."
In August 2010, The Register, a British online tech publication, reported that "top-secret, super-elite U.S. Navy SEAL special forces are to deploy heavily armored bulletproof dogs equipped with infrared night-sight cameras and an 'intruder communication system' able to penetrate concrete walls." The article also reported that the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Group had "awarded an $86,000 contract to Canadian firm K9 Storm Inc. for the supply of 'Canine Tactical Assault Vests' for wear by SEAL dogs." The K9 catalogue boasts an array of high-tech canine devices, from storm lights to long lines and leads to an assortment of vests — assault, aerial insertion, and patrol-SWAT — which are rated from "excellent" to "good" in protecting the animal from harm due to everything from bullets to ice picks.
Not all military dogs are trained to kill. According to the U.S. Air Force, a dog only enters advanced training after a basic obedience program is successfully completed. The focus of this more intensive training is "controlled aggressiveness" in which the dog is "taught to find a suspect or hostile person in a building or open area; to attack, without command, someone who is attacking its handler; to cease an attack upon command at any point after an attack command has been given. Make no mistake, these animals can be lethal weapons: "The average German Shepherd's bite exerts between 400 and 700 pounds of pressure," according to the U.S. Air Force.
Military dogs and their handlers often form deep bonds — it's an essential part of the canine-handler relationship that is specifically built into their training regimen. The personal attachments are often so intense that it can take weeks of training before a dog can begin working with a new handler.
Not only are these dogs fierce assault weapons, they are loyal guardians. When Private First Class Colton Rusk was shot after his unit came under Taliban sniper fire during a routine patrol in Afghanistan, Rusk's bomb-sniffing dog, Eli, crawled on top of his body, attacking anyone — including Rusk's fellow Marines — who tried to come near him. Rusk did not survive the assault, but Eli was granted early retirement so he could live with Rusk's family.
A canine's olfactory powers are well known — dogs are now even being used to sniff out rare types of cancer — and that natural ability hasn't gone unnoticed by the U.S. military. When President Barack Obama traveled to Asia last fall, an elite team of 30 bomb-sniffing dogs were part of his security entourage. (All in all, it was a pretty cushy assignment: The dogs stayed in 5-star hotels and rode in vehicles tailored to their comfort and safety.)
More remarkable still are vapor-wake dogs. Scientists at Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine have genetically bred and specially trained canines to not only detect stationary bombs or bomb-making materials, but identify and alert their handler to the moving scent of explosive devices and materials left behind in the air, say, as a suicide bomber walked through a crowd — all without ever tipping off the perpetrator. While not as expensive as some military-trained dogs, the cost of breeding and training these dogs cost is not cheap at around $20,000 each.
U.S. and allied forces have been fighting a losing battle against improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan. In the first eight months of 2010 there were more roadside bombs in Afghanistan than in the same period in 2009.
In October 2010, the Pentagon announced that after six years and $19 billion spent in the attempt to build the ultimate bomb detector technology, dogs were still the most accurate sniffers around. The success rate of detection with the Pentagon's fanciest equipment — drones and aerial detectors — was 50 percent, but when a dog was involved it rose 30 percent. Katherine Bigelow should have included a dog in her Academy Award winning film the Hurt Locker.
Over the last two years, there has been an effort to rapidly increase the number IED detection dogs in Afghanistan and Iraq. Currently, the Marine Corps has 170 bomb-sniffing dogs, but has plans to deploy as many as 600 dogs to their program before September 2012. In late 2010 the Marines have also awarded a contract to American K-9 Interdiction for "as much as $35 million" to train and kennel their dogs.
In February, Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos stated that he'd like to see "a dog with every patrol."
During World War I, the German and French armies used an estimated 50,000 trained dogs as sentries, scouts, ammunition carriers, messengers, and casualty dogs. The British and Belgians loaned similarly trained dogs to the American Expeditionary Forces late in the war.
In the early 1930s, Germany opened a large dog training school in Frankfurt. By the time the United States entered World War II, the Germans had trained nearly 200,000 war dogs.
The attack on Pearl Harbor sparked the first serious interest in war dogs by the U.S. military services. In May 1942, the U.S. Army received the first nine American-trained sentry dogs from Dogs for Defense Inc., an organization composed of American civilians interested in training dogs for the war effort. From these nine dogs, the U.S. Army Canine (K-9) Corps was formed. It grew to a force of more than 10,000 dogs before the close of the war.
Following World War II, the Air Force began using sentry dogs in both Europe and the Pacific area for peacetime duty. The first Air Force sentry dog school was activated at Showa Air Station, Japan, in 1952. In 1953, the second school was opened at Wiesbaden, West Germany. The Army continued to train and supply sentry dogs to Air Force units in the United States until the Sentry Dog Training Branch of the Department of Security Police Training was established at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in October 1958.
Through the years, a number of different breeds have been tested for the Military Working Dog (MWD) program. Currently, the German Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd and Belgian Malinois have proven to be the best choices as the standard MWD for patrol and detection work. However, other breeds such as the Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever and other sporting breed dogs have been used in support of the Transportation Security Administration mission and one of the DoD's newer canine capabilities, the Specialized Search Dog. The German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois have the best overall combination of keen sense of smell, endurance, speed, strength, courage, intelligence and adaptability to almost any climatic condition.
A dog's world is significantly different from man's. A dog's vision is inferior to man's although it can detect movement, however slight, at greater distances. A dog depends less on visual impressions than on its superior senses of hearing and smell. A German Shepherd's and Belgian Malinois' hearing ability is much better than man's, though their keenest sense is that of smell. Both the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois rely mostly on their sense of smell for close examination of the environment. The highly developed senses of hearing and smell, along with a generally superior personality and disposition, make German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois the most versatile working dog breeds, and the ones best suited for military duties.
I have had a love for German Shepherds since seeing Rin-Tin-Tin in the movies during World War Two. I currently own two of these smart, courageous and loyal dogs —Baina and Blaze. When you sit and talk softly with them and look into their eyes you just know they are trying to understand you. They are definitely a gift from God.
I can recall a documentary film I saw on he war dogs of Vietnam and the heroic actions they performed. As I stated above the U.S. Army, in their ignorance, considered these dog as surplus property when we withdrew from that conflict and ordered the dogs destroyed. During the film there was an interview with an army veterinarian who was ordered to perform the euthanasia on these brave and loyal animals. He stated that to this day he cannot look a German Shepherd in the eyes without tearing up. I can totally understand his emotions. As I was doing the research for this blog post I was tearing up as I learned more about the performance and value of the Military Working Dogs. I kept thinking of my two German Shepherds as I was writing this and wondering how they would perform in a military operation. I think they would do just fine.
During Obama’s big deal campaign, “spike the ball” performance at Fort Campbell he made no mention of the role of the MWD in the take down of bin Laden. Shame on him!
Appended on May 7, 2011.
After additional research I discovered the name of the dog that accompanied the Navy SEALs in the bin Laden take down. His name is Cairo and he was presented to Obama during his visit to Fort Campbell. You can read the two articles about the dogs by clicking here and here.