Mayport Moments

This photo shows Retired Chief Petty Officer Millie Canipe with MWD Rex.
Above: Officer Millie Canipe poses with her long-time partner Rex at Naval Station Mayport. Anyone can be cool, but awesome takes work. These two are awesome.

Story and photos by Dixie Whitman

Base pass in hand, security waved us through the Visitor’s Gate and aboard Naval Station Mayport. Large boxes and bags neatly stacked behind the driver’s seat busted at the seams with goodies for the MWD teams at Mayport kennels. Naval Station Mayport is one of three major Navy installations in the greater Jacksonville, Florida area. It’s home to the 4th Fleet, helicopter training squadrons, and some of the most polished military working dogs in the Navy’s command.

In addition to the warm greeting from Kennel Master MA1 Roberto Aguilar, the Atlantic Ocean breeze welcomed us as we drove onto the base. It was just after 9:00 AM, and the temperature was rising nicely under a clear, sunny sky in north Florida. We were headed for a Navy kennel visit. Could this day really get much better?

Surprise, surprise!!

Photo shows fence separating Naval Base Mayport waterfront from civilian beach.
The beach here is wide and lovely. The fence line separates the base beach from the public beach. Northern Florida has some wonderful waterfront and parks to explore. Mayport is a stunning base, and we were delighted to share a few hours with the great teams here.

As we rounded the corner into a base housing neighborhood, we followed the Kennel Master’s truck. It turned into a stubby driveway in front of a low-slung pastel Florida house. We exited the van, confused about whose house we were visiting.

Simultaneously, handlers poured out to greet us. Our first surprise? The yellow house with the screened-in porch and breezy carport was actually the kennel office. Equally mind-boggling, the actual dog kennels also blended into the neighborhood, occupying a similar home in the same cul-de-sac. At most bases, a large kennel yard sits next to the kennel. Not here. At Mayport, handlers take their partners to various base parks where they train.

To my absolute delight, I found a second big surprise. The “civilian contract handler” included in my planning numbers was, in fact, retired Chief Petty Officer Millie Canipe. Millie and I first met at a huge Fort Benning Vietnam Dog Handler event that I coordinated back in the spring of 2004. In 2005, even before MWDTSA became a thought, four friends and I visited the spotless kennels at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base near St. Mary’s, Georgia, where Millie served as Kennel Master.

Reflecting on Kings Bay

That Kings Bay kennel visit was one of my favorite days ever, tucked into a special spot in my heart. Her kennel was filled with gorgeous and very social German shepherd dogs who excelled in their work. In fact, MWDTSA’s first ever hero dog, Rex D012, hailed from the Kings Bay kennel. Millie’s enthusiasm and wonderful handlers impacted MWDTSA and my life immensely. How many people can say they’ve been on a nuclear submarine, successfully negotiated a Navy shooting simulator, and had an opportunity to meet the Commanding Officer in charge of the East Coast’s nuclear fleet?

In addition to Millie, there were three other teams available at Mayport that day with dogs trained in explosives, patrol, and narcotics. Millie dashed off to get her partner, another dog named Rex, who at 11 was the oldest dog in the kennel. Rex and Millie have been together since 2010. That length of partnership is unusual for active duty personnel as they change locations more frequently, but their civilian counterparts can add stability with a more permanent placement.

Presents for all

Three handlers show off their new San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee. Left to right: MASN Noonan, MA2 Stanley, and MA1 Aguilar.

After Rex arrived, we began opening up the goodies that MWDTSA had brought to share with him. Rex enthusiastically grabbed his KONG toy to chase and chew, but showed little interest in the dog thermometer. It monitors his core body temperature to help keep him safe while working in the heat of the Florida sun, but much less fun on his end.

MWDTSA also presented T-shirts, patches, and coffee mugs to the handlers. The San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee was immediately pressed into use in the kennel’s well-worn coffee maker. Soon, scrumptious coffee smells wafted throughout the small kitchen area. It’s always good to keep our protectors caffeinated, and San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee has proven to be a steadfast partner.

Meeting the Mayport teams

Photo shows MASN Noonan and his handsome partner, MWD Mirko.
MASN Noonan kneels with MWD Mirko.
Photo shows MA2 Stanley and MWD Mio.
MA2 Stanley with MWD Mio.

Next in for a meet and greet, uber-handsome MWD Mirko and his partner, MASN Patrick Noonan, visited and posed for some splendid photos. Mirko, an 8-year-old rich dark German shepherd dog, has a confident smile and stunning face. A dual-purpose dog, he spends part of his days patrolling from the back of a squad car and the other part using his nose to find bad things.

Also dual-trained, our next visitor Mio is strong and agile. Five-and-a-half-year-old Mio, a deep black and red German shepherd, exudes a serious demeanor. He and his partner, MA2 Jacob Stanley, posed for our camera. Instead of strutting his stuff, Mio hinted he had little time for nonsense and wanted to get back to work. He let his guard down long enough to smile for the camera, but he returned to full focus moments later.

“Painting” and wordplay

Photo shows MWDTSA volunteer Jerry Whitman receiving love from MWD Sindy.
Sindy with MWDTSA volunteer Jerry Whitman.
This photo shows Kennel Master MA1 Aguilar with MWD Sindy.
Kennel Master MA1 Aguilar serves as Sindy’s handler.

Sindy, the youngster of the crowd at 3.5 years of age, has a wonky ear and loves to find explosives. She buried her face into my husband’s stomach, enjoying some extra scratches and loving. We joked about taking her home with us. They teased in return about letting us! Apparently this dark German shepherd beauty is a “painter,” which means that she’s adept at slinging poo artfully around the kennel walls.

One of the handlers unavailable that day was MA2 Cameron Ruff. We wondered if his last name helped his cause when he asked to become a dog handler or if it made it “ruff-er.” His comrades shared some good-natured banter about his incredibly à propos moniker.

We also enjoyed reconnecting with Divisional Officer Stull, who had been a handler at Kings Bay the last two times we met and was instrumental in setting up this base visit.

The Tour-de-Mayport

Mayport has immediate access to deep water and is home to the 4th fleet. The first stop on the tour was the pristine sandy beach that is available to personnel based at Mayport. Because it was early in the day and during work hours, only a few folks were out walking the beach. Driving on to the shipyards gave us ample opportunity to see a variety of ships in port, including our first littoral combat ships, which were developed for combat in shallower waters closer to the coast.

Photo shows helicopter training in the clear blue skies above Naval Station Mayport.
Helicopter takeoffs and landings are common sights near Mayport, as the base hosts several helicopter training squadrons.

Helicopter training squadrons bunk here, as well, allowing young Navy pilots an opportunity to learn the skills to meet Naval Station Mayport’s mission of sustaining and enhancing war-fighter readiness.

As we looked out through the majestic oaks standing sentinel over the adjacent golf course, we ended our day with delicious burgers from Bogey’s restaurant. We enjoyed our last moments over the lunch table with the great teams from Mayport. We appreciate their generous hospitality, unending smiles, and partnerships with some of America’s greatest military working dogs.

Many thanks to the MWDTSA donors who made this base visit possible. To learn how you can support our nation’s military working dog teams, visit https://mwdtsa.org/.

Camp Hale dog #1?

Coloring page shows St. Bernard dog with snowy mountain background. Dog is wearing a flask around his neck.
Illustration by Chris Tomlin; reprinted with permission of HarperCollins UK. HarperCollins UK kindly allowed MWDTSA to print a black and white version of this coloring page for use in elementary school visits. Check out Tomlin’s amazing coloring book: Art for Mindfulness DOGS.

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Many thanks to Keli Schmid, Archivist and Librarian, 10th Mountain Division Resource Center, Denver Public Library, for sharing a treasure trove of World War II material with MWDTSA. Our favorite find? A 1943 newspaper piece with a dog’s eye view of Camp Hale. We included a copy of this story in each Q1-2018 care package…

It Took Bourbon to Bring Out Man’s Love for Canine—Bruno the Pup Finds

Story by Francis Taylor Patterson

Source: Camp Hale Ski-Zette (Pando, CO), 21 April 1943. Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. CO State Library.

Dear Pups,

I can just see you frisking around and barking, Goody! A letter from Puppa from Pando! Well, Woof, Woof, here I am, safe and sound in the Rockies.

It was quite a trip. The train mushed up through the Royal Gorge and Salida and Cañon City. Some of the curves were so sharp the train could almost bite its tail. The scenery reminds me of the Alps that your grandfather is always talking about. I never saw an Alp, but I don’t think they could be much higher than these Rockies.

We’re on the top of the world, two miles straight up in the air. It keeps snowing all the time. They say there’s twenty feet of snow in this place, but I don’t know; when there gets to be twenty feet of it in a place, there isn’t any place. Icicles hang from the roofs to the company street, taller than men. And is it cold? Below zero!

First thing when I got here, I went over to Headquarters to make out a questionnaire.

It went something like this:

Name: Bruno St. Bernard

Age: Under 21

Color: White and Brown

Eyes: Drooping

Occupation: Rescue Work

This is a mountain artillery outfit and they have a lot of mules, but I never cared much for mules. Even from a distance they smell, and close up they kick. This bunch are guaranteed to kick from any angle and at any range. And they do. They can go up the mountain trails where the jeeps can’t, but I can go up where the mules can’t, on account of us being Alpine stock.

The first night, they put me in a pup tent. Can you imagine? Me! In the morning, I forgot where I was when I woke up. I stretched, and the whole tent came down on top of me. A rookie was going down the company street and I ran after him to help me out, but he gave one look . . . and ran faster. Tonight they’re going to put me some place else. Maybe in the dog house. That’s a place I keep hearing about, but I haven’t been able to locate it yet.

Somebody’s always in it. I’m all mixed up. They say I’m the first dog here, but the men are always talking about their dogs, their dogs are tired, their dogs hurt them. Still, I didn’t see any dogs.

Once I heard talk of bones. I listened because I don’t know what to do with mine.

The ground is so hard I can’t bury them. But here it seems they roll the bones. They talk about chow. That sounds like a dog and isn’t. Yesterday they had hot dogs for chow. And they say I’m a guinea pig. They’re experimenting, and if I turn out to be useful in the war effort with these ski troops, they’ll train a lot of us. That’s being a guinea pig. There’s a lot to learn about this Army language.

My basic training started today. It was funny. The sergeant said I was to go out and save somebody who was supposed to be lost in the snow. He asked for volunteers to be saved. Well, it was pretty cold, ten below, and nobody cared much about lying around in the snow. But when I came trotting out with a little flask of bourbon tied around my neck, according to the good old Swiss custom, the men began falling down all over the place. They started whistling and calling, “Here, Bruno! Nice doggy! Hey, waiter!”

The sergeant got sore. “Pipe down, you guys,” he barked.

“You’re supposed to be stiffs. You can’t whistle! You’re getting him all balled up. And we’ve got to use this flask every day. You can’t go drinking his basic training on him. Fall out!” Then he patted me and said, “I’ll give you your basic training my own self.”

The men have big white capes with hoods to wear over their uniforms. They call it snow camouflage. It makes them look funny, like big Russian wolfhounds standing on their hind legs. I didn’t get in on that issue. They say I’m snow camouflaged already with my white coat. Only the brown spots have them a little worried.

Well, be good and eat your kennel ration before they start to ration kennel ration. Remember, one of these days you’ll have to do your bite.

Lots of love, Puppa

p.s. I didn’t have to go to the delousing plant. It’s so cold here fleas freeze…tell Mama.

 

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Inspired by Bruno’s tale above, MWDTSA would love to read dog’s eye stories from present-day handlers.

Seventy-five years from now, someone might be reading your piece to glean insights about military life in 2018. To submit a dog’s eye story or poem for MWDTSA’s blog, email Nikki Rohrig (president@mwdtsa.org).

To learn how you can support military working dog teams deployed in conflict zones overseas, visit https://mwdtsa.org/.

 

 

 

Q1-2018 packing day recap

Twenty-four Q1-2018 packing volunteers pose by mail truck.
Above: The 24 packing volunteers gather for a celebratory photo after assembling 191 boxes, February 11, 2018.

My mom and I had never taken part in a MWDTSA packing day before volunteering to coordinate the Q1-2018 event. We had seen pictures and read others’ Kennel Talk articles, so we had some notion of the steps involved. But there’s a big difference between head knowledge and how the journey feels. It was deeply satisfying to watch a mail truck full of care packages drive off into the sunset.

Gearing up

When we started planning 10 months ago, it felt as if we had plenty of time. We reached out to potential donors with letters, emails, and phone calls, asking them if they’d join us in our mission of supporting military working dog teams deployed in conflict zones overseas. For every 10 contacts we made, a company stepped forward with a generous donation. Every one of these “yes” responses filled us with optimism that carried us through moments of doubt.

We often experienced radio silence from the other nine organizations, punctuated with an occasional form letter. “Thank you for contacting us. We receive many donation requests from worthy organizations and only have funds to support a few. Unfortunately, we are not able to provide a donation at this time, but we wish you every best in your mission.”

We focused gratefully on the one “yes” instead of the nine who didn’t respond or said no. Over 70 individual and corporate donors stepped forward with enough donated products to fill 200 USPS 12” x 12” x 5” flat-rate boxes.

Staging

As products began arriving, we set aside space in our house to store the cartons. One column of boxes quickly became two, then three, then… Suddenly, we had 40 cases of dog toys, dog treats, and handler snacks stacked in the living room, hallway, and basement. And we knew these 40 cases would grow to nearly 100 by packing day.

Two days before the Q1-2018 packing event, we had a total of 91 cartons stored at the Louisville (CO) Police Department (everything at the edge of the training mat, and all boxes along the right wall).

Our house looked as if we had just moved in and hadn’t unpacked…or were preparing to move out. My dad likes order, and I could tell this growing accumulation of boxes was on his mind. The boxes even crept into my mom’s dreams, her subconscious pondering the unthinkable. What if there’s a flood? Fire. Robbery. Mice. Should we get extra insurance?

As packing day grew closer, we started to think through the logistics of getting all these cartons to our packing location. How many trips would it take? That’s when we experienced one of many sweet surprises in this packing journey.

Through happenstance, we learned the Louisville (CO) Police Department had recently used its training room to prepare holiday gifts for low-income families. So, we reached out to ask if they might be willing to let us pack in that space. They not only said yes; they also offered storage space for our growing mountain of boxes, starting nearly a month before our packing event. We were able to move everything out of our house and reclaim the living room (mostly).

Packing day

As we approached our February 11 packing event, it felt as if we had a thousand details and loose ends to consider. Count, re-count. Make checklists so we wouldn’t forget important tasks. Contact packing team members with time, location, and logistical information. Breathe deeply.

This photo shows two volunteers preparing for the packing event.
Krystal Rineck (Store Manager, Chuck and Don’s, Longmont, Colorado) and MWDTSA volunteer Anna Steere prepare for arrival of the packing team. Krystal draws diagrams of the packing sequence for volunteers to use as a reference.

Chuck & Don’s Pet Food and Supplies, Longmont, Colorado, volunteered their entire staff to help on packing day. They did this as a company team-building event. Store Manager Krystal Rineck and Manager Mark Saltzman arrived 1.5 hours early to help with set-up. This included arranging tables, deciding the packing sequence, and moving product into position.

When the rest of the packers arrived, Krystal and Mark organized everyone. The group began assembling care packages at 3:00 p.m. and we finished 191 boxes before 5:00 p.m. It took us another 30 minutes to breakdown cartons for recycling.

Packing these boxes was an amazing experience and a way to say thanks to MWD teams for the sacrifices they make to keep our nation safe. It was exhilarating to be part of this team effort, and we’re ready to sign up again!

For more information on how you can support military working dog teams, visit https://mwdtsa.org/.

This image shows the packing team working in the style of an assembly line.
Volunteer packers worked at “stations” along an “assembly line.” Participants added one or more products to each box, then passed the boxes to the next station.
The Niwot, Colorado Postmaster and the young son of a Louisville Post Office employee wheel dollies full of care packages into an elevator on their way to the mail truck.
Three adults and two children from United States Postal Service helped at the end of our packing line, attaching customs forms and taking boxes directly to a mail truck. On a Sunday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos by Anna Steere and Leigh Steere

Align Orthodontics patients raise $926.50 for MWDTSA

This photo shows the Align Orthodontics staff, including Dr. Colletti, along with wooden moose mascot Justin Timbertooth and guest RMWD Falco.

For over six months, the kids at Align Orthodontics donated their prized wooden nickels to MWDTSA. The tally is in, and these Colorado kids rock! Their $926.50 contribution helped fund MWDTSA’s Q1-2018 care packages. With this money, we purchased toothpaste for the dogs and Cocomel candies for the handlers.

Wearing rubber bands, head gear or retainer as prescribed?

Align’s wooden nickel program promotes good oral hygiene and compliance with orthodontic instructions. At each visit, patients earn nickels based on how well they’ve cared for their teeth and braces. With 20 nickels, patients can “shop” at an Align “store” that offers Lego sets, gift cards, and other coveted merchandise.

Many patients, however, chose to deposit their nickels in an MWDTSA donation jar at the front desk. For each of the 1,853 wooden nickels contributed by patients, Align Orthodontics provided 50 cents toward our Q1 2018 care packages! To put the kids’ sacrifice in perspective, their nickels could have purchased 92 Lego sets at the Align store.

The Meltzer family represented Align Orthodontics patient families at MWDTSA’s Q1-2018 packing event, February 11, 2018. Meltzer relatives served in WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. “Helping MWDTSA lets us give back to the men, women, and four-legged heroes that protect our country,” says Michele Meltzer. (Photo courtesy of Meltzer family)

Additionally, a patient’s family stepped forward to volunteer countless hours to help MWDTSA with pre-packing activities. The Meltzer’s neatly folded 200 t-shirts and placed items that might leak into Ziploc bags. They and Align associate Megan Lentfer joined the packing team to assemble nearly 200 boxes on Sunday, February 11.

Align Orthodontics military ties

Align Orthodontics has a deep reverence for the military and the sacrifices made by our servicemen and women. Dr. Laurence Colletti, owner of the practice, graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1975. As a USAFA cadet, he was interested in dentistry AND being a pilot. However, the Air Force was not sending any graduates to dental school. So, he had to decide between staying in the Air Force and becoming a pilot, or pursuing dental school on his own. Taking this decision very seriously, he decided to play himself in a game of racquetball. Becoming a pilot won. During active duty, he flew as a T-38/KC 135 Pilot and Wing Flight Safety Officer and really enjoyed his time in the sky. “Where else in the world,” he asks, “can a 21-year-old be trusted with a multi-million dollar piece of equipment?”

After 6 years of flying, however, the dental desire returned. He decided to enter the Army Reserves as a Medical and Dental Officer so he could start dental school as a civilian. In this capacity, he was activated for Desert Storm. Altogether, he served in the military for 20.5 years before retiring.

Dr. Colletti isn’t the only person at Align with military connections. Orthodontic Assistant Sylvia Cage’s daughter served four years and son-in-law served 20 years in the Air Force. Megan Lentfer’s sister and brother-in-law are active duty Navy. Her cousin is an active duty Marine.

Many thanks to Align Orthodontics for your enthusiastic support. It’s donors like you and your patients who make our quarterly care packages possible, and we really appreciate you!

Is your group interested in raising money for MWDTSA care packages? To learn more about MWDTSA’s needs, contact Nikki Rohrig at president@MWDTSA.org or visit https://mwdtsa.org/.

Photo credit: Shelli Patty. Align Orthodontics office staff with RMWD Falco. From left to right, bottom row: Dr. Laurence Colletti, moose mascot Justin Timbertooth, Sylvia Cage; top row: Amanda Evans, Megan Lentfer. Not pictured: Laurie Hoff.

 

Packing commences for Q1-2018

Handsome German Shepherd police dog models "Dogs with Altitude" bandana and poses next to care package contents. Photo by David Schlatter Photography, Superior, Colorado.

It’s packing week. On Sunday, February 11, MWDTSA volunteers and donors will assemble almost 200 care packages. Each box will provide essentials and treats for U.S. military working dog teams in conflict zones around the world.

For each quarter, MWDTSA selects a packing coordinator and location. The extensive preparation process begins 10 or more months in advance of each mailing date.

The packing coordinator…

  • Identifies a theme for the quarter.
  • Selects products to include in the care packages.
  • Solicits donations from manufacturers, retailers, and veterinary clinics.
  • Organizes fundraisers to collect products and postage.
  • Identifies a venue for care package assembly.
  • Selects a packing team.
  • Delegates pre-pack activities such as sealing liquids in sandwich bags.
  • Works with the local post office to arrange pickup of the finished boxes.

Adrenaline flows in the days leading up to the care package assembly. Will products arrive in time? We double check quantities, food expiration dates, and more.

Stay tuned for photos of our Q-1 assembly day. We feel honored to be able to support both ends of the leash with these boxes.

Visit https://mwdtsa.org/donate/ to learn how you can help with future care packages. We appreciate your support!

Many thanks to David Schlatter for his amazing photos of K-9 Kingston and MWDTSA’s Q1-2018 care package.

 

Photographer Dick Durrance encourages support of active duty troops

This image shows a soldier with a stack of envelopes, calling out recipients' names.

Dick Durrance served as an Army photographer during the Vietnam era. Today, at age 75, Durrance is on a mission—to raise public awareness about the challenges of serving in a combat environment. Through photos and speaking engagements, he shares words of wisdom on how people can support today’s military. His recent TEDxTalk brought 5,000 people to their feet.

This black and white image shows Durrance sitting in a bunker with a camera in his lap.
Dick Durrance II, Army Specialist 4th class, sits in a Camp Evans bunker, March 1968. The Army issued him a Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex which shot medium format 120 mm film. He also carried a 35mm Nikon F camera. (Photo courtesy of Dick Durrance)

As you’ll see in the interview below, his family has a tie to the 10th Mountain Division, Camp Hale, Colorado. MWDTSA’s Q1-2018 care packages are commemorating the 75th anniversary of Camp Hale, and we were excited to learn about the Durrance connection.

Kennel Talk (KT): Tell us about your role in the Army.

Dick Durrance: I served in the Department of Army Special Photographic Office. Based at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, I shipped out for three months at a time to take pictures for the Pentagon in Thailand, Vietnam (twice), and Korea. My assignments ranged from photographing equipment, facilities, and terrain to documenting combat missions. The Pentagon used these pictures to brief the President on military activities in Southeast Asia in 1967 and 1968.

KT: Did you ever have a chance to photograph military working dogs?

Durrance shot this photo of the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea. The image shows a harsh, uninviting landscape.
Many of Durrance’s assignments involved photographing terrain and military assets for the Pentagon. Pictured here: Command Post 250 on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a heavily patrolled border separating North and South Korea. (Photo by Dick Durrance)

Durrance: Just once, and the experience left me with a lifelong fear of German Shepherds. While in the Korea DMZ, I received an assignment to photograph the canines. I was young and dumb at the time. One of the dogs was on a 30-foot chain attached to a stake. I had the idea of kneeling 33 feet from the dog and setting the camera focus at three feet. I signaled the handler to release the dog to ‘attack’ me. The canine bounded toward me with alarming speed, barking ferociously and baring its fangs. Through my lens, all I could see was mouth. He hit the end of the chain, way too close for comfort.

KT: Your dad, also named Dick Durrance, was a famous ski racer. What was his relation to the 10th Mountain Division?

Durrance: When Minnie Dole was selling the idea of creating the 10th Mountain Division, the military had one question. Would it be better to train marksmen how to ski, or teach skiers how to shoot? The military said to my dad, “We want to send you a company of soldiers who don’t ski and see if you can train them to ski.” They were a test case. Could top skiers in Alta, Utah train neophytes to ski in a reasonable amount of time?

The answer was a resounding NO. After about three months, roughly a third of the skiers had broken their legs. At the time, there were no quick-release bindings. Those had not been invented yet. This failed experiment led the military to conclude they needed to recruit seasoned skiers and teach them how to shoot.

For anyone who’s interested, there’s a chapter about my dad’s Alta experience in his memoir, The Man on the Medal.

KT: On Veterans Day 2017, you gave a TedXMileHigh Talk, and then subsequently took part in an interview with Colorado Public Radio about your time in Vietnam. Here are some of the pearls you shared…

  • Going through basic training, you asked yourself, “Am I ready for this? I’m about to be melted down and recast as a warrior and handed to the President to do with as he wishes.”
  • “If you saw someone as a mother’s son or a little boy’s father, could you pull the trigger?”
  • As you photographed your first firefight, you felt “startled by how loud it was. The roar of the tanks. The boom of the big guns. The rat-tat-tat of machine guns. Deafening and disorienting.”
  • Grappling with what you had just witnessed, you realized you were “going to have to suck it up and somehow come to terms with the fear that comes from fighting.”
  • You noted, “I did it for a day and I was rattled. Those guys did it for a year. What did that do to their minds?”
  • “One of the riflemen in the unit said to me, ‘Dick, there is no more hellish dilemma that we face than taking aim at somebody and not knowing whether they are a friend or a foe. Do you pull the trigger or not? And if you are wrong, how do you deal with that?’”

Timeless advice

Durrance: It’s hard to convey what combat is like. Through sharing my photos, I hope to give people a fuller sense of what soldiers go through and how it affects them.

If we are to appreciate what the men and women who are out there fighting right now are doing for us, we have to understand how profound their combat experience is. They risk their lives, face terror, and lose buddies. And when they come home, they somehow have to square what they had to do as warriors to survive with what they are expected to do now. It is not easy.

Durrance photographed the aging handle of a street sewer access lid. The image looks like a pair of square eyes, haunted with pain.
“I was walking in Carbondale, Colorado, when suddenly, I noticed square eyes peering at me from the pavement. It was only an access lid to a street sewer, but I felt I was staring into my psyche,” recalls Durrance. (Photo by Dick Durrance)

Even 49 years after returning from Southeast Asia, I will see something random, such as the handle of a manhole cover, which jogs a memory from Vietnam. It will remind me of the guilt I felt when I pushed civilian values aside.

I encourage people to think of every day as Veteran’s Day. Put a couple minutes aside to appreciate what our service members are doing for us every day. Try to understand what they are going through and how it’s affecting them. And what I hope you never forget is that when war goes into a service member’s mind and heart, it never leaves.

KT: As we aim to support today’s service members, what are your thoughts about letters and care packages?

Durrance: At basic training, I remember how lonely I felt being unplugged from family and friends. Mail call was a chance to touch base with loved ones. It was a connection to an outside world that was seeming further and further away. At the same time, we knew our family and friends had no idea of the military world. They were remembering us as we were, having no idea of what we were becoming.

This photo, taken by Dick Durrance during basic training, shows a soldier with a stack of envelopes, calling out recipients' names.
“Mail call in basic training and throughout our tours of duty was a vital link to our lives back home,” says Durrance. (Photo by Dick Durrance)

It’s important to take the time to reach out. It’s also important to try to step into the shoes of these servicemen and women in an effort to understand their world.

Many thanks to Dick Durrance for sharing his experiences and insights with Kennel Talk.

Join the conversation by adding a comment below. If you’ve been deployed, what do you want civilians to know about your experience? How can family and friends best support active duty personnel, as well as combat veterans who are now back home?

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MWDTSA supports military working dog teams (dog plus handler) deployed in conflict zones overseas. To donate toward a care package for these intrepid teams, visit https://mwdtsa.org/donate/.

To order a copy of Dick Durrance’s 1988 book, Where War Lives: A Photographic Journal of Vietnam, send a check for $20 to Dick Durrance, Post Office Box 1268, Carbondale, CO 81623. Make sure to include your mailing address, email address, and phone number when placing your order. Also, he has copies of his father’s memoir, The Man on the Medal, available for $45 each (the price includes postage).

Attention dog lovers: $10,000 grant at stake

Photo of military working dog with flower

In honor of your favorite dog, you can help MWDTSA win a $10,000 grant. We just need your vote. Once a day, every day, between now and the end of the contest.

Sugarlands Distilling Co. in Gatlinburg, Tennessee will be giving away six grants to nonprofits, and we’re in the running. Here’s the way it works:

  • Please visit moonshare.org every 24 hours. Voting resets each night at midnight.
  • Click on our MWDTSA logo and scroll down to the bottom of the page to enter your e-mail address and cast your vote.
  • Bookmark the URL and set a reminder to visit every day until the end of the month.

To get to round #2, we need your help!

The competition started with 48 nonprofits vying for the six grants. On January 10, Sugarlands cut the field in half, based on the number of votes each organization had received. We made that cut!

On January 20, they will again cut the field in half, and we hope to be one of the 12 remaining contenders.

Voting will continue until the end of the month, when Sugarlands will announce the six winners.

What the grant means for MWDTSA

As you know, we send nearly 200 care packages per quarter to military working dog teams deployed in conflict zones overseas. Army. Navy. Air Force. Marines. Coast Guard. In 2017 alone, we spent over $12,000 on postage to ship these boxes. The Moonshare grant would cover more than 80 percent of our anticipated 2018 postage bill. That would be a huge blessing!

Please share this post with your family and friends. Our diligent military working dog teams will appreciate your support! Best of all, it costs nothing to vote, except a few seconds of your time each day. Thanks for your help!

To learn more about MWDTSA, visit https://mwdtsa.org/.

Co-written with Nikki Rohrig, President, MWDTSA

Photo credit: Rachel Longo

Dogs with Altitude: Gearing up for Q1-2018 care packages

Graphic design for Q1 care package honors the World War II dogs of the 10th Mountain Division.

For the first time in its eleven-year history, MWDTSA will be assembling its quarterly care packages in Colorado, for shipment to dogs and handlers in conflict zones around the world. Each quarter, we decide a theme and build the boxes around that motif. Pirates, ice hockey, superheroes, and football are a few recent examples. Our Q1 packing team brainstormed various Colorado themes. Snow sports, mining, mountains, or simply “With Love from Colorado.” In the end, though, we landed on “Dogs with Altitude: 75 years of faithful service.” We’re honoring the 75th anniversary of the nation’s formal MWD program and Colorado’s role in the earliest MWD training efforts.

U.S. military dogs before 1942

Dogs have helped soldiers around the world, dating back millennia. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and other groups utilized canines for defense and more. There are stories of American dogs in the Civil War and World War I. However, there was no formal U.S. war dog program until 75 years ago.

Starting in the late 1930s, enthusiastic civilian breeders and dog lovers volunteered to train and supply canines for U.S. military use. In The Quiet Americans, author Tracy English writes, “One of the most famous groups was ‘Dogs for Defense.’ They came into being immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Along with help from the American Kennel Club, the group aimed…to develop a large trained canine force for use in civilian plants and in the Army if the call ever came.”

Army pulls the war dog program in-house

The military’s need for canines, however, quickly outpaced Dogs for Defense’s ability to deliver. The problem involved more than inability to meet a numeric quota. According to uswardogs.org, “an Army inspection in June (1942), three months after the program began, revealed that the dogs in training had made little progress. This was due largely to the fact that available instructors generally were inexperienced in teaching sentry dogs. They were unfamiliar with military conditions. Most of them specialized in preparing animals for routine obedience tests or field trail work. Another striking weakness of the program was the failure to teach men to handle the dogs. This defect was due primarily to the fact that the Army did not make enlisted personnel available for this purpose.”

As a result of this inspection, “the Army transferred control of the procurement and training of dogs to the Remount Branch, Service Installations Division in June 1942,” explains English. “Previously, the Remount Branch had responsibility for procuring horses and mules for military service. So, they were in good condition to switch up their procedures to procure dogs. The first large request for dogs came from Camp Hale in Colorado. They wanted over 100 dogs for use as messenger, sledge and scout dogs.”

Dogs with the 10th Mountain Division

With the transfer of the dog program to the Remount Branch, the Army embarked on developing a new canine training program during the summer of 1942. The dogs at Camp Hale and their soldier-handlers were among the first MWD teams to take part in the new training, in field conditions.

At 9,200-feet in elevation, with surrounding areas climbing to over 12,000-feet, the Army built Camp Hale to prepare soldiers for wintry, high-altitude combat in Europe. According to ColoradoEncyclopedia.org, “the U.S. Army’s first and only Mountain Infantry Division took shape at Camp Hale over the winter of 1942–43. All the troops arrived at Camp Hale by January 1943. The valley buzzed with the activity of thousands of soldiers training for war. At its height, the camp had more than 1,000 buildings and housed about 15,000 troops.”

Photo of handler and dog from Camp Hale, circa 1943-1944.
Fully equipped mountain trooper and dog, circa 1943-1944. WWII soldiers did not have the benefit of today’s technical fabrics, so staying warm was a greater challenge. Credit: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection, call number TMD351-2017-255.

Man’s best friends boost morale

The encyclopedia entry goes on to say, “enlisted men learned how to survive in winter conditions and fight in the mountains. They practiced skiing, snowshoeing, and technical mountain climbing. Training was hard, requiring marches and maneuvers with heavy packs at high altitude. Soldiers often suffered from altitude sickness, frostbite, and low morale worsened by a lack of nearby entertainment options.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the dogs serving at Camp Hale did more than just their day-to-day work. They provided a much-needed morale boost and occasional comic relief amidst the harsh training conditions.

Our Q1-2018 care packages will commemorate these early teams and Colorado’s MWD heritage. MWDTSA is honored to celebrate the legacy of these intrepid handlers and dogs—75 years strong.

If you would like to contribute items for the care packages or donate toward postage, visit MWDTSA.org for more information on how you can help.

(A version of this piece originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Kennel Talk.)

Happy New Year from MWDTSA’s Kennel Talk!

Each year, January 1 feels like a present.

A fresh start. A chance to launch new initiatives that build on the prior year’s successes, as we endeavor to support both ends of the leash.

To kick off 2018…

We are excited to introduce a change in our award-winning monthly newsletter Kennel Talk.

We will be migrating from a PDF newsletter to a blog format over the next few weeks, a transition that will yield several benefits. First, we can post news stories right away, instead of waiting for the next monthly issue. You’ll get smaller bites of content more frequently.

Second, our content will be more easily sharable on social media and faster to locate in internet searches. Third, we can produce content in a more streamlined manner, freeing up volunteer time for other MWDTSA activities such as fundraising events and base visits. And lastly, a blog is more interactive. We hope you’ll comment, discuss, ask questions, and share ideas for articles you’d like to see.

Looking ahead to Q1-2018 care packages…

The 12 months from June 2017 to June 2018 mark the 75th anniversary of our nation’s formal military working dog program. MWDTSA’s Q1-2018 care packages will commemorate this 75th anniversary, and we are eager to share anecdotes from 1942 and 1943 with you in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned for the tale of Bruno St. Bernard of the famed 10th Mountain Division, Camp Hale, World War II. 🙂

We thank you for your support and look forward to journeying with you all over the world in 2018,

Anna Steere and Leigh Steere, MWDTSA volunteers

 

Join the conversation! What military working dog topics would you like to read about in 2018?

 

 

German Shepherd Dogs in the Military: A Brief Historical Overview

This photo shows a German Shepherd Dog focused on her handler, who is not pictured.
Afola, a German Shepherd Dog with the U.S. Air Force, awaits commands from her handler. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Patrick Evenson) To learn how you can support military working dogs deployed in combat zones overseas, visit MWDTSA’s home page.

By Brad Cohick, MWDTSA

Development of the German Shepherd Dog Breed and Early Trials

Between 1899 and 1914, the German Shepherd Dog (GSD) was developed by Captain Max von Stephanitz of the German Army to be a working dog. Many years of selective breeding by Stephanitz honed the traits of intelligence, loyalty, dedication, and tenacity needed for military and police applications. Eager to show the prowess of the new breed, Stephanitz loaned these new dogs to German police departments–the first K9 Corps.

During this trial period with German police, these new dogs showed great promise in areas such as obedience, tracking, and protection. Stephanitz believed these dogs could also be useful to the German military. After these early trials with German Police units, Stephanitz sought to have GSDs added to German Military units. The timing could not have been better for Stephanitz and his new German Shepherd Dogs.

German Shepherd Dog (GSD) Photo: PDPics.com

World War I

In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, German Shepherd Dogs began serving with the German Military. They performed a number of tasks on the battlefield and within the ranks of the German Army. These new dogs served as sentries, messengers, and ammunition carriers. They proved themselves especially capable in aiding wounded soldiers on the battlefield. They even led injured and blinded soldiers off the battlefield to safety and medical attention. This latter act by the new breed eventually led to the development of the first seeing eye dog, an important function the GSD still serves today.

While at first amused by the use of dogs on the battlefield, the soldiers on both sides of the conflict were quickly impressed. They saw these new dogs performing numerous heroic acts under stressful and dangerous conditions. In fact, soldiers were so impressed by the dogs’ capabilities that after the conflict, the Germans, as well as the Americans and the English, began to develop their own cadre of German Shepherd Dogs for use in the military. GSDs would prove themselves again in conflict when World War II broke out in 1939.

Photo: publicdomainclip-art.blogspot.com

World War II

During WWII, the Germans again utilized GSDs, and the U.S. began deploying them, as well. U.S. GSDs served mainly as messengers, helping soldiers to communicate on the battlefield. GSDs also acted as guards and search and rescue dogs during the war. In all of these roles, the GSDs performed well. This led to the establishment of many K-9 training camps, where GSDs began training regularly for service in the U.S. Military.

Beginning in August 1942, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps established dog training centers at Front Royal, VA; Fort Robinson, NE; Cat Island (Gulfport), MS; Camp Rimini (Helena), MT; and San Carlos CA. The K-9 Corps initially accepted thirty-two breeds of dogs for training.

By 1944, however, the military reduced that list to seven: German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Siberian huskies, farm collies, Eskimo dogs, and Malamutes. Today, GSDs are the only breed still trained by the U.S. Military from that original list. Modern additions include the Belgian Malinois and Labrador Retrievers now being trained and mobilized as Military Working Dogs (MWDs).

Formal training

Training for dogs at these K-9 Camps lasted between 8 and 12 weeks and consisted of “basic training” to get the dogs accustomed to military life. After this initial twelve-week training period, the dogs would go on to a specialized training course in one of four areas: Sentry Dog training; Scout or Patrol Dog training; Messenger Dog training; or Mine Detection Dog training.

After successful completion of the specialized training, the dogs and their handlers would be organized into War Dog Platoons. During the course of World War II, the military deployed fifteen War Dog Platoons to the European and Pacific Theaters of War. Seven served in the European Theater and eight in the Pacific Theater. It has been said that while on patrol in the Pacific Theater with a War Dog Platoon, no units were ever ambushed thanks to the K-9s assigned to those units. Many of the dogs trained and deployed during WWII were German Shepherd Dogs.

The Korean War

After World War II, due to lack of interest and budget issues, the military cancelled and closed most of the War Dog Programs. The 26th Scout Dog Platoon, however, stayed intact to some degree and moved from Front Royal, Virginia to Fort Riley, Kansas in 1948. On December 7th, 1951, the responsibility for dog training was transferred to the Military Police Corps. The 26th Scout Dog Platoon moved again to Fort Carson, Colorado.

The 26th Scout Dog Platoon was the only active War Dog Platoon to serve in the Korean War. It served with honor and distinction in Korea from June 12th, 1951 to June 26th, 1953. Platoon members were awarded a total of three Silver Stars, six Bronze Stars for Valor, and thirty-five Bronze Stars for meritorious service. On February 27th, 1953, the Department of the Army recognized the accomplishments of the platoon in General Order No. 21.

One Dog who proved an outstanding success with the 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon in Korea was Scout Dog York (011X). York completed 148 combat patrols, the last one coming the day before the Armistice was signed officially ending the war. On July 1, 1957, the War Dog Training Center was moved from Fort Carson, Colorado to Fort Benning, Georgia¹.
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¹Webpage, 47th Scout Dog Platoon, http://www.47ipsd.us/47k9hist.htm

Vietnam

During the initial phases of the Vietnam War, German Shepherds were used mainly on Air Force installations as sentry dogs. However, as the war escalated, The United States Marine Corps entered into a service agreement with the US Army to have them train German Shepherds as scout dogs. This would be the first time since World War II that the Marines had used scout dogs. Two Marine scout dog platoons were deployed to Vietnam in February 1966.

The Marines kenneled their dogs near Da Nang at Camp Kaiser, named after the first Marine scout dog to be killed in action in Vietnam. The first Army scout dog platoon was deployed to Vietnam when the 25th IPSD arrived at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in June 1966. Between late 1965 and January 1969, twenty-two Army Scout Dog Platoons (including the 47th IPSD) and Four Marine Scout Dog Platoons were deployed to Vietnam².
______________
²Ibid

Dogs are comrades, not equipment

Over 9,000 handlers and 4,000 dogs served in the Vietnam War. The final disposition of the dogs after the war is a sad and disgraceful episode in our military’s history, however. At the time, the dogs were viewed as equipment by the military, and disposition of the dogs after the war was done in the most economical way. The dogs were given to the reluctant South Vietnamese military if possible for an unknown disposition, and at worst, were euthanized or simply left to fend for themselves. A most despicable and shameful ending for the beautiful and heroic dogs who had served our military personnel so gallantly on the battlefield.

This sad episode led to a large public outcry. In response, the military pledged not to dispose of military working dogs in the same manner. Congress eventually passed a law that allows military dogs to have an honorable retirement. President Clinton signed a bill in November 2000 (H.R. 5314), which amended title 10 of the US Code. This allowed for the adoption of retired military working dogs to former handlers and other qualified civilians.

Now, these life-saving dogs in the military can finally look forward to a comfortable and dignified retirement.

Author’s Note:

According to a former Vietnam MWD Handler here at MWDTSA, GSDs served in Vietnam not only as Scout Dogs but also as Mine & Tunnel dogs. The advent of IHS fever helped the US military decide not to bring home GSDs, since they and most US bred dogs were subject to it. After Vietnam, all dog units except AF were disbanded. Due to the “overbreeding” of American GSDs, the AF began its favoritism toward the Malinois, including a breeding program.

German Shepherd Dogs: 9/11 and Beyond

German Shepherd Dogs have been part of the US Military’s Military Working Dog program since the end of the Vietnam war, through the Cold War years and up to today’s climate of global terrorism and asymmetric threats. According to a recent article in the New York Times, “German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are the most common breeds of dogs used by military operators, because they have the best overall combination of keen sense of smell, endurance, speed, strength, courage, intelligence, and adaptability to almost any climatic condition.”

Currently, the Army has approximately 600 dog teams, which have seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan³. The courage and loyalty of these dogs have continued to save lives and prevent injuries since creation of the K-9 Corps.

Many of the dogs on these current teams are German Shepherds, and they serve in many roles and perform many duties. Today, we can see German Shepherds performing HALO jumps with Special Operators and inserting from boats with Navy SEAL Teams. These dogs continue to be valued members of our Military and patriotic guardians of our freedom.

German Shepherd Dogs likely will have a place in our military for years to come. They have served with distinction in many theaters and in many conflicts around the world. Should you have the good fortune to meet MWD teams, please thank them for serving our country.
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³U.S. Army.mil

 

About MWDTSA

The Military Working Dog Team Support Association is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) nonprofit serving MWD teams in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. With your support, we send quarterly care packages to MWD teams deployed in global combat zones. Additionally, we boost morale with stateside MWD kennel visits. We promote veteran causes and memorials, including recognition of retired MWDs. And we host education events and create content to educate the public about the jobs of MWD teams. To learn more, visit MWDTSA’s home page.