Most people are unaware of the many different roles that dogs play in the military. More than just a mascot, the bottom line is that military dogs save lives. Let’s take a look at some of the different ways throughout history that canines have done just that.
Red Cross Dogs
Canines were an invaluable asset to the military in World War I. These dogs were called Red Cross Dogs, also known as mercy or ambulance dogs. They were trained to find wounded soldiers and bring help to them. Soldiers would often try to hide their location after being hurt, in order to stay safe. These dogs had an advanced sense of smell and hearing and were able to find these soldiers and send help in their direction. These dogs were especially helpful as these soldiers often had to be rescued at night. It has been estimated that by the end of the war, there were around 10,000 Red Cross Dogs in service by different countries such as Germany, Italy, France, Russia and Great Britain.
Sentries, Guards and Scout DogsParis, a coalition force military working dog gets ready to attend a transition shura in Khak-E-Safed district, Farah province, Afghanistan, Feb. 23, 2013. Farah Provincial Governor Dr. Mohammed Akram Khpalwak used the transition shura as an opportunity to highlight Afghan National Security Forces’, especially Afghan Local Policemen’s, successes which allowed the de-militarization of coalition forces in the area. Afghan National Security Forces will continue counter insurgency operations without the presence or mentorship of coalition forces. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released)
In the 1940’s, military dogs were used in several different ways. They were used as sentries and guards, primarily. The U.S. Air Force used sentry dogs during the cold war in order to guard areas where nuclear weapons were being stored. In the 1960’s, dogs were used to protect missile bases from trespassers.
They were also trained as scout dogs during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. They were trained specifically to find where weapons were stored as well as where enemy fighters were and help with ambushes. Teams of German Shepherds were used to navigate military units through enemy territory by giving their handlers silent warnings if there was trouble.
During the Vietnam War, approximately 5,000 war dogs were in service. It is estimated that K9 units saved over 10,000 human lives in the Vietnam War alone. Unfortunately, 232 military dogs lost their lives during the war and only 200 of the surviving dogs were taken to other military units. The rest of the dogs were left behind or euthanized.
For example, some dogs would begin to walk on their hind legs when there was trouble and others crossed their ears. These dogs were great for warning troops before surprise attacks occurred. This was especially valuable as it gave soldiers time to prepare adequately for what was to come. These dogs were even able to tell if the enemy was hiding underneath the water.
Special and Black Ops AssignmentsU.S. Navy Master-at-Arms 3rd Class Christopher Coolahan and Military Working Dog Meky, assigned to Camp Lemonnier Base Security, participate in controlled training exercises at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Jan. 30, 2013. MWDs are used to apprehend suspects, perform searches, and detect explosives and narcotics. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Nick Strocchia/Released) dodlive.mil
During the Vietnam War, there was a group of dogs that was considered the best of the best. These dogs had the ability to run twice as fast as humans. They were outfitted in assault vests that were able to repel shrapnel and knives. These dogs had the ability of finding and recognizing explosive devices, search buildings and give intelligence information from a camera which they were equipped with. They were fitted with special night vision goggles that even had infrared abilities which gave the dogs the ability to see through concrete walls and recognize body heat.
Soviet Misuse of Army Dogs
Unfortunately, dogs were used at their own peril by the Soviets in World War II. These dogs were called anti-tank dogs or dog mines. They starved the dogs in hopes that they would go looking for food underneath tanks. The army then attached explosive devices to the dogs. When they went over to get under the tank, they would trip a lever attached to their backpacks and it would explode. The Cambodia Herald reports that these dogs blew up about 300 tanks in this manner. The sad result is that these dogs were forced to give up their lives for the campaign.
In the Military Today
Some dogs who go into military service today are trained to parachute. In World War II, dogs parachuted out of aircraft with their trainers so that they could be available for service immediately after landing. They were used as guards, patrolling units and used to find mines. Another example was in 2010 when British Special Forces parachuted into an area where the Taliban had a grip. These dogs that parachuted with the soldiers had cameras on them in order to scout the area, acting as surveillance squads.
The Pentagon spent billions of dollars between 2006 and 2012 in order to find different ways to detect roadside bombs, which are the main cause of troops getting killed in Afghanistan. Instead of relying on new technology, soldiers use specially-trained dogs who have been trained for months to smell dangerous explosives. In 2007, only 13 dogs were sent to Afghanistan and Iraq, but in 2012 the number of dogs used for this purpose was increased to 600.
Military dogs that are used today can cost $8,000 or more after they have graduated. These canines have been called “a living, four-legged Swiss Army knife.” About 2,500 military dogs are in service today, with 700 of them serving overseas. These dogs reach retirement after about 10 years. After this, they commonly serve as police dogs. These dogs who have helped our country in this way certainly should be rewarded with a lot of love and recognized by our country for all they have done.
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