May 24 2011

On Memorial Day

War dog memorial in Guam.

War dog memorial in Guam.

No matter your stance on war, you have to respect those who serve in the military.  They put their lives on the line to protect us.  Service members who die in the line of duty will be remembered on Memorial Day.

One of the most interesting stories coming out of the recent Abbottabad raid was the inclusion of a Military Working Dog, or MWD, on the SEAL team.  Dogs have been members of the armed forces for years, but Cairo brought them into the spotlight.  While no details have emerged about Cairo’s involvement or whether he entered the compound, his presence demonstrates an increasing reliance on dogs in the military, and their numbers are steadily growing.

The main services these dogs perform are bomb sniffing and reconnaissance.  For years, the government has tried to develop technology that will detect explosives, but dogs have always put them to shame.  No human or machine can match their skill for alerting comrades to the presence of improvised explosive devices or hostile troops.  Dogs also serve as trackers, sentries, and for search and rescue, and have saved many lives in various ways.

Their skill on the battlefield isn’t the only benefit: having a buddy to curl up with at the end of a harrowing day means so much to these folks who are so far away from their own families.  Soldiers become attached to the dogs in their outfits, and oftentimes adopt them once their tours are finished.  They are just as devastated when a dog dies in the line of duty as when a human comrade does – perhaps more so, due to the unique bond some people share with animals.

Theo, a record-holding military dog working in Afghanistan for Great Britain, suffered a seizure and died after his handler Lance Corporal Liam Tasker was killed by a sniper’s bullet.  Search dog Cooper and his handler Kory Duane Wiens, of Oregon, were killed on patrol in Iraq when an IED exploded.  Corporal Wiens was named after his grandfather, who was also a canine handler during the Korean War.  In Afghanistan, Lance Corporal Mason Neff was saved by his dog Bingo, who had found an IED and kept Neff from getting close to it.  Bingo detonated the bomb and was killed, but his handler was able to return home to North Carolina, injured but alive.  Two stray dogs, Rufus and Sasha, saved the lives of soldiers from Newnan, Georgia in Afghanistan in 2009.  They attacked a suicide bomber dressed as an Afghan police officer, keeping him from getting closer to the soldiers.  When the bomb was detonated, Sasha died and Rufus was injured, but no soldiers on the base were killed.

Many other dogs have lost their lives in combat, from young dogs just starting their tours, to more experienced MWDs, to strays who had come to love their new companions.  This Memorial Day, let’s remember the soldiers who died serving our country, human and canine.

*The above picture is of two Marines visiting the War Dog Memorial on the island of Guam.  This memorial celebrates the dogs who died helping U.S. soldiers root out invading Japanese forces in 1944, in the dense jungles of Guam.

*The United States War Dog Association has a page on its website honoring dogs who have lost their lives in combat: http://www.uswardogs.org/id67.html.  There are also dogs available for adoption who have either retired from service or were not chosen to enter combat: http://www.lackland.af.mil/units/341stmwd/.

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