“The only creatures that are evolved enough to convey pure love are dogs and infants.” — Johnny Depp
As the owner of three German Shepherds (one deceased) I love to read stories about hero war dogs. These dogs have saved countless lives and get little or no recognition in the MSM.
This morning I saw a story about and Air Force dog who lost a leg saving his handler and other members of the squad in Afghanistan. Her name is Layka and she is a Belgian Malinois, a close relative of the German Shepherd.
Mike Joseph reports on the U.S. Air Force Web Site:
“A Belgian Malinois became the first military working dog honored by the 341st Training Squadron for her heroic actions while assigned to a U.S. Special Forces unit in Afghanistan.
Layka, an almost 3-year-old female, was recognized Sept. 12 at Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland, Texas, for saving several Coalition Forces team members during a June 4 special operations mission.
Layka had been dispatched to clear a building of explosives and help look for enemy combatants after a brief fire fight.
During her search, the dog was ambushed by one of the assailants. Layka received multiple gunshot wounds to the abdomen and a limb, which later had to be amputated.
Severely wounded, she attacked and subdued the assailant, protecting the lives of her handler and other coalition team members behind her.
Once the area was secured, Layka's handler and a physician's assistant began treating the injured canine. Layka was then flown to a theater hospital for the first of several surgeries, eventually losing her right front leg. She arrived in San Antonio in early July for rehabilitation at the Daniel Holland Military Working Dog Hospital.
"This has never been done before by us, but we wanted to thank Layka," said Maj. Jason Harris, 341st TRS commander, who presented the dog with a medal of heroism from the unit's parent organization, the 37th Training Group.
The squadron provides trained military working dogs used in patrol, drug and explosive detection, and other specialized mission functions by the Department of Defense and other government agencies.
"The medal is unofficial because no decoration exists for military working dogs, but we felt Layka deserved recognition," Harris said. "What these dogs do, day in and day out, is phenomenal. They do save lives.
"Layka was shot and still attacked the person shooting her. She's been through a lot, and what she did is nothing less than heroic."
Following the ceremony, Layka was flown to Georgia to be reunited with her handler, who is still on active duty.
No longer able to serve because of the injuries, Layka has been adopted by her handler, who cannot be identified for reasons of security.
"He's very excited to get her and thankful he had her that day (in Afghanistan)," Harris said. "Layka is very handler-protective, which led to what she did over there."
Tech. Sgt. Joseph Null, the 341st TRS military working dogs adoptions coordinator, said MWDs are invaluable to the armed services.
"She surprised the terrorist, who was waiting to lay down fire on the team. I heard from people on the mission that if Layka hadn't reacted like she did, there was a potential for multiple casualties," Null said. "Layka needed to be recognized for her sacrifice."
When I saw this story this morning on Fox and Friends I could not help but think of my two German Shepherds, Baina and Blaze, and give them a hug. I also harkened back to a documentary I saw about war dogs on the National Geographic Channel several years ago. The documentary focused mainly on the dogs that were used in Vietnam by the Army and Marines. It was a great story until the end where a veterinarian, who served in the army during the Vietnam War, was interviewed. At that time the military considered the war dogs as equipment and like any other equipment were considered surplus when we withdrew from Vietnam. The veterinarian explained that his job was changed from caring for the dogs to putting them down as surplus. He said that to this day he cannot look into the eyes of a German Shepherd without welling up in tears.
It was just one year ago that the world first heard of Cairo, the dog who joined the mission that took down the world's most hunted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. The news sparked something of a sensation, and while Cairo might be the world's best-known war dog, he's far from a lone fighting force. The world of combat canines is vast, with a long and rich history, and these dogs have footholds on war fronts where you'd least expect to find them. From patrolling Moscow's train stations to thwarting insurgent ambushes in Afghanistan to guarding the borders of the West Bank to serving on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's private security detail, war dogs are essential to many of the world's most elite units, detecting bombs, detaining enemies, and saving lives.
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.
[Rebecca Frankel, who specializes in writing about war dogs, has a great photographic essay in Foreign Policy Magazine.]
There are several memorials to these magnificent dogs around the world. One is located at March Air Force Reserve Base near my home in the city of Riverside, California. It’s a great memorial to the many dogs that served, and are serving our military throughout the world.
War Dog memorial at March AFRB in Riverside, California
Also there are several books on the subject of war dogs with the most recent being Sergeant Rex by former Marine handler Mike Dowling, a book I read cover to cover in one night with Baina and Blaze by my side.
Everyone has heard of Rin Tin Tin, but Sergeant Rex is the real-life German Shepherd military dog. By all accounts, he had a great reputation for being a superior working dog, whose duty was to patrol and detect explosives. Rex was so special. Mike Dowling wrote Sergeant Rex to honor him, and Megan Leavey never gave up her dream of being reunited with Rex after their retirement.
Rex was born in Germany in 2001, and he came to America as a puppy to go through the military dog-training program at Camp Pendleton, California. Mike commented that Rex had all the qualities needed for a military working dog: "Stamina, loyalty, athleticism, intelligence, and a drive to work. In fact, he was nicknamed 'Sexy Rexy' for his handsomeness, and 'T-Rex' for his aggressiveness when necessary."
In March 2004, Corporal Mike Dowling and Rex were deployed to Iraq. They were one of a dozen working dog teams sent to the frontlines since the Vietnam War. Their mission was to save American soldiers' lives while enduring the dangers of trigger-happy insurgents who planted explosives.
Another informal assignment for the dog-handler team was for Rex to serve as a therapy and morale dog. Mike stated that stress affects every single military person, yet "[t]he great thing about having Rex is that after the battle we were able to get back to the base and play with each other. Having a dog attached to a combat unit improves people's morale. Most everyone loves dogs, so we were immediately welcomed. From the highest to the lowest ranks, everyone wanted to interact with Rex and talk about their own dog. He was able to take everyone's mind away from combat for a few minutes."
Mike and Rex were together for two and a half years, and never once did Rex forget what he was taught. "In his book he refers to Rex as a sergeant because dog handlers treat their dogs as if they are one rank higher than them, even though dogs are not given official ranks. This is to remind them that they never disrespect them. It got to a point that he knew what Rex was going to do before he did it." Before leaving the Marines, Mike worked with Rex's next dog handler, Megan, "giving her advice on how to handle and approach Rex." Both Megan and Mike noted that they looked upon Rex not as "a dog," but rather as a Marine, a partner, and an extension of themselves, learning his mannerisms and personality.
Rex was the only dog Megan worked with, and they were together from October 2004 until December 2007. They worked together for over a hundred missions during their two deployments to Iraq. Megan's time with Rex was very different from Mike's because of the harrowing experience they had together.
On September 4, 2006, Rex and Megan found a large number of IEDs. While they continued the search for more explosives, an insurgent watcher detonated an IED while Rex and Megan were directly over it. Megan became unconscious, bursting all the blood vessels in both ears. As she came to, even though the atmosphere was smoky, making it hard to see, and the only sound she could hear was a ringing in her ears, one of her first thoughts was of Rex: "Thank God Rex was attached to my flack jacket. I made sure Rex was all right and found that he had a severe shoulder injury, had shut down, and was very scared." They did not leave the scene of the intense firefight, instead waiting for the detonation team to arrive. Megan received the Purple Heart for the true heroism she and Rex displayed.
Due to their injuries, Megan and Rex were not involved in future missions, and in December 2006, they were sent back to Camp Pendleton. Megan's last year was spent taking Rex to physical therapy sessions and helping other Marines get ready for deployment. In 2007, after finishing her service, she filed papers to adopt Rex. Because Rex recovered from his injuries, he remained on active duty, so her request was put on hold.
Megan explained that military dogs are kept working as long as they are physically able because of the money invested in them (about $50,000). She also dispelled the rumor that once a dog is no longer able to work, it is "put to sleep. The military puts dogs to sleep only if they have a medical condition or are too aggressive and unable to adapt to pet life."
Megan felt that having Rex beside her gave her strength. She never wavered from her determination that one day she and Rex would be together. She stayed in touch, calling Rex's handlers on a regular basis. A year after leaving the Marines, she visited Rex at Camp Pendleton, enjoying their time together since "everyone knew Rex was my dog. All I wanted was to be reunited with Rex and take care of him."
By the time Rex turned eleven, Megan had enlisted the help of the public and Senator Charles Schumer to push through the adoption papers. After supposedly being diagnosed with facial palsy, a disease that causes the left side of his face to be droopy and numb, Rex was retired and adopted by Megan on April 6 of this year. She noted, "I had not seen Rex in three or four years, and as soon as I took the leash, we just picked up where we left off. It seemed like no time had passed between us."
Ever since I was a young child I had had a fascination with German Shepherds. I loved the Rin-Tin-Tin films and have purchased a DVD of them. They are powerful, smart, and loyal dogs. But, as the military vet stated; it’s the eyes. When you look into the eyes of a German Shepherd you cannot doubt they understand and love you.