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

By Brad Cohick -MWDTSA

Development of the 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. Because of the many years of selective breeding by Stephanitz, the GSD is known for it’s intelligence, loyalty, dedication, and tenacity, making it a perfect candidate for military and police applications and operations. After years of honing the traits of these dogs, Stephanitz was eager to show the prowess of the new breed in areas such as obedience, tracking, and protection and sought to do so by lending 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 performing the aforementioned tasks along with their police handlers and Stephanitz believed that they 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, and 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 the first World War, German Shepherd Dogs were provided to the German Military and they began performing a number of tasks on the battlefield and within the ranks of the German Army. These new dogs performed a wide array of tasks such as sentries, messengers, ammunition carriers, and, they proved themselves especially capable in aiding wounded soldiers on the battlefield, even leading injured and blinded soldiers off of 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 the new dogs on the battlefield, the soldiers on both sides of the conflict were impressed by the heroic acts they saw these new dogs performing under such 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 1941.

Photo: publicdomainclip-art.blogspot.com

World War II

During WWII, not only did the Germans use GSDs, but the United States Military now deployed GSDs to act mainly as messengers, helping the 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 GSD performed well and many K9 training camps were established to begin regularly training GSDs 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 for training thirty-two breeds of dogs. By 1944, however, that list had been reduced 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, with the modern addition of Belgian Malinois and Labrador Retrievers now being trained and mobilized as Military Working Dogs (MWD).

Training for dogs at these K-9 Camps lasted between 8 and 12 weeks and consisted of what could be considered “basic training” to get the dogs used 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 and deployed to both the European and Pacific Theaters of War. During the course of World War II, fifteen War Dog Platoons would be deployed with seven serving in the European Theater and eight serving 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 War Dog Programs were mostly cancelled and closed. 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 and 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. The 26th Scout Dog Platoon 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, ttp://www.47ipsd.us/47k9hist.htm

Vietnam

During the initial phases of the Vietnam War, German Shepherds were used mainly as sentry dogs 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

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. After which, the military pledged not to dispose of military working dogs in the same manner. Congress eventually passed a law which 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 of war 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 VN 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 VN 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.

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 serving 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.

There is no reason to believe that German Shepherd Dogs will not 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 one of these Military Working Dogs, please remember to show your respect and thank them for their service to our country.
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³U.S. Army.mil

How to Keep Your Dog Active This Winter

dog-sledding

By Megan Schneider from Kurgo Products

Snowflakes are flurrying outside a frosted window while you’re curled up in front of the fireplace, hot cocoa in hand. Your pup snoozes beside you as you pet him. The last thing you want to do is get up and go outside, right? This winter, that doesn’t have to be the case! Your dog still needs exercise for his mental health and yours. Here are some fun ideas to stay active both indoors and outdoors.

Plan a puppy play date. This one is the best of both worlds. First, you get to hang out with your dog. Second, you get to hang out with your friend and his or her dog. And, bonus, you can do this one inside or out. If you want to play outside, great! You deserve a lot of credit, because it’s cold out there. Just make sure you bundle your dog up in a dog coat to keep him warm! You can go to a dog park, take a walk, or even just play fetch with the pups in your back yard. However, if you’re like me and can’t always bring yourself to brave the frozen tundra, you can also have a play date inside. Set up a mini obstacle course for your dogs – you can use things like cones, spare tires, and poles to set up a basic course – and have a little friendly competition with your pal!

Jogging with dogFind a dog park. The great thing about dog parks is that there are both indoor and outdoor parks. Whatever suits you and your pup’s lifestyle better is fine. Again, if you will be keeping him outdoors, make sure he is prepared for the cold in a warm dog jacket. You might also want to consider dog shoes or a salve, like Musher’s Secret. At the dog park, you can do all sorts of things – play fetch with a ball or Frisbee, let your dog make new friends (just be sure to keep an eye on him), run with him, or so much more. However, taking your dog to an indoor park could be more beneficial to both you and your pup than an outdoor park. First, there are no other creatures waiting to sabotage your play date. While ticks and mosquitoes are more of a summer worry, there are always a few stragglers – I’ve been pulling ticks off my dog all November long! An indoor park allows you to enjoy playtime with your pup with peace of mind. Additionally, when you play with your dog outdoors, chances are he loves to dig in the dirt or snow – this may be entertaining to watch, but it makes a lot of extra work for you later when you have to bathe him for the third time in two days. Finally, indoor parks keep both you and your dog out of the cold so you don’t have to worry about all the extra layers for both of you.

Create a scavenger hunt. This may require a little extra effort on your part, as most dogs have an amazing sense of smell. However, it will be worth the effort to see how happy this makes your dog! Snow is great for a scavenger hunt because even if you don’t have a great hiding place, the snow covers everything. Pick a few items such as treats, toys, and tennis balls and hide them across your yard. You’ll both get a decent amount of exercise trekking through the snow, and you’ll have a blast watching what he goes after first! This one can also be done indoors. Since you have less space inside, change it up a bit – show your dog a treat or a toy and tell him to sit and stay while you hide it. You can do this one at a time or with several items at once.

Bring him to your favorite retailer (or his). There are all sorts of clichés about kids in candy stores and girls in shoe stores – but have you ever seen a dog in a pet store? He will be in literal (read: figurative) heaven traipsing down aisles filled with toys and treats. You can let him pick out a new dog toy or new treat flavor, or maybe even a new dog bed. Additionally, you can also take your pup along to your favorite store. Many major stores, such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, Macy’s, Barnes & Noble, and LUSH Cosmetics all allow dogs in their stores. Shopping and hanging out with your dog? It doesn’t get any better than that! Just always be sure to call the store first to make sure dogs fit into their specific store policies.

Dog and snowshoesBundle up and get outside! This one is the most obvious of all, which is why I saved it for last. Yes, winter is cold and snowy and we don’t all love it. But chances are, your dog does. So bundle yourself and your dog up, get outside, and start a game of fetch or go for a walk. After all, there’s nothing cuter than watching your dog frolic through freshly fallen snow. Or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, try something new – there are all sorts of fun winter sports you can do with your dog, such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or skijoring. All three require a bit more effort than your typical snow day with your dog, especially skijoring – it is a new sport that combines dog sledding with cross-country skiing. But all three promise to be tons of fun, as well!
Whatever you decide to do with your dog this winter, just have fun. And, most importantly, make sure you always make time to exercise your pup – it will keep him both happy and healthy!

Megan Schneider graduated summa cum laude from Temple University in 2016 with a degree in advertising research & strategy. She has written content for blogs as well as for advertising and promotional materials, and is currently writing for Kurgo, a company committed to helping people and their dogs get out and enjoy the world together by creating high quality dog travel and outdoor products.

Richard Trapp and Chris K081

Richard Trapp and Chris K081

By Dixie Whitman

Chris was a particularly talented gal, she had to be because she was working alongside members of an elite Navy SEAL team whose every movement was precise and inevitable. She was a gorgeous German shepherd dog of deep sable color, perfect ear set with an exquisite structure that matched her beautiful mind. All of those talents and assets were honed by her handler, Richard Trapp, into a Patrol and Explosives Dog extraordinaire, Chris K081.

It was Trapp's second Deployment, but his first as a dog handler. In addition to Chris' skills in the field, the teamwork built with Trapp was flawless in execution and resulted in their being pulled to work highly sensitive and critical missions with members of the Special Forces Group.

One such day happened to be on July 4th. Sure, it was Independence Day back home with parades, family reunions and BBQs, but here in the hot, wretched Hellhole of Afghanistan, the day would be spent on a mission to assist a nearby village deal with their Taliban infestation issues.

The mission that day remains mostly classified so we cannot know the intensity of battle or final results, but ultimately, after a firefight lasting two hours, the team prepared to return back to their tiny Forward Operating Base (FOB) to rest, Mission Complete.

Driving the dangerous roadways is always an issue in Afghanistan. Today was no different, except due to the extreme terrain, these guys were riding All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs). The ATV that Chris and Richard rode hit a 60 pound IED that day. As Trapp remembers, "It was a scary event. I didn't know if we were dead or alive." Fortunately, it was their lucky day as only half of the explosive actually detonated, but the heat from the half that did explode burned Trapp's uniform and melted his boots
"It was nerve-racking, I went back to the FOB, got on the phone, called my wife and I told her, "I just wanted to say I love you."

Chris continues to perform flawlessly. She will do anything for a KONG toy. That deployment with Trapp she had 7 confirmed finds, including two bomb making factories, a weapons cache filled with AK47s and rounds of ammunition along with multiple IEDs. Her work no doubt saved the lives of coalition soldiers and local civilians. As she continues to work, she moves towards her retirement, which Trapp plans to be on a couch in his living room.

We thank this hardworking gal with a great nose for all of her expertise and success over the years and wish her Godspeed on her journey home from her current deployment and into the welcoming arms of her former handler and permanent retirement.

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Sgt. William (Billy) Soutra and his Specialized Search Dog, Posha F738

Sgt. William (Billy) Soutra and his Specialized Search Dog, Posha F738

In July of 2010, the Helmund River valley near Nahr-e Saraj, Afghanistan, was an immensely volatile Taliban stronghold. One Special Forces Operator reported casualties in 18 of the 19 missions run by his unit. This was where Sgt. William (Billy) Soutra and his Specialized Search Dog, Posha F738, along with other members of their Special Forces Team, were inserted via helicopter to begin a mission to capture an insurgent bomb factory and clear out a Taliban command post.

Once Posha was on the ground, his nose immediately honed in on certain odors, finding two pressure plate bombs; Posha then began sniffing for booby traps around a weapons cache. As Posha and Soutra began this search, the Taliban exploded into a ferocious ambush; the fighting lasted two days. During those 48 hours, Soutra and Posha exhibited exquisite Marine heroism and resourcefulness, resulting in the awarding of a Navy Cross for dog handler Soutra and three Silver Stars for other members of his unit. The Navy Cross, presented December 2012, is the second highest award for combat valor and the highest ever awarded a dog handler who was secured to his dog during the action for which he received the commendation.

The official Department of Defense news release uses phrases such as "moving exposed down the line," "rushed into the kill zone," "pinned down," "flurries of insurgent machine gun and mortar fire" and noted that in the end, "they had destroyed the bomb factory, and had killed approximately 50 enemy fighters."

Soutra's version talks more about his partner, Posha. The Marine states clearly that half of the Navy Cross belongs to his best friend, a solid black male German shepherd dog with wonky ears, an affable personality and a brilliance and steadfastness that are hallmarks of this splendid breed. "Posha made me the Marine I am today."

Billy could not give enough accolades to his dog. "During all of the gunfire, as we moved into the firefight, he didn't hesitate, he didn't cower, he did everything exactly when and how I did it for two straight days. If he had faltered or balked at any point, it could have been different." He added, "He always reacted the same way. He saved my life."

On a previous deployment to Iraq in 2009, Soutra and Posha's teamwork was so precise and seamless that, in a rare event, the Marines meritoriously promoted Soutra to Sergeant and by extension, Posha to SSgt.

While Posha made it through the second combat deployment, he later succumbed to cancer and was euthanized in 2011. His loss was particularly difficult for his handler. "It's been a year now, but it still hurts when I think about how he got cancer and had to be put down."

Posha's ashes rest in an urn in a place of honor at Soutra's bedside. If Soutra has his way, his German shepherd hero who is now buried in his heart will one day be buried with him. "That way, we will always be together."

Dog handler Soutra wrote the following memorial to his K9 partner, after Posha's death.

"I wish I could tell you that it's going to be okay, but the truth is you've always been the one to pave the way.

You were always two steps ahead making sure that the paths we traveled were safe.

And although you've done enough already, I ask that you still watch over me, making sure the roads I travel without you are safe."

MWDTSA is honored to have supported this team.

Sergeant William "Billy" Soutra was awarded the Navy Cross at Camp Pendleton, CA on December 3, 2012. Click play, below, to listen to the audio portion of his DOD interview. The full (public domain) video interview can be viewed at http://www.dvidshub.net/video/192339/interviews-with-secretary-navy-and-silver-star-recipient#.Uc3abZxZ7Kc .

 

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Thomas Jackson and Toby

Army Specialist Thomas J. Jackson and Toby L024

Six year old Toby L024 was a shiny, sleek black Labrador Retriever with a silly grin and slightly graying muzzle when he was partnered with Army Specialist Thomas J. Jackson during their 11-month deployment to the worst areas of Afghanistan. They developed the same characteristics: weary, dust-covered, yet always willing to work. Whether walking point on a combat patrol, clearing roadways of explosive devices or hunting for Taliban leaders, this dog team was relentless.

As a Specialized Search Dog (SSD), Toby's job was to use his nose off lead and work ahead of his handler. Toby went on hundreds of patrols and found many IEDs, several caches of Rocket Propelled Grenades with propellant tubes, and even an old 250 lb. Russian GBU (Guided Bomb Unit) that was dropped during the Russian occupation, but failed to detonate on impact. That one bomb in the hands of the Taliban would have had the potential to reduce homes and buildings into rubble and kill dozens of people.

During one intense firefight with the enemy, a Marine was gravely wounded and bleeding profusely. The only way to get him medical care was through a path cleared by Toby. The Marine received the needed care and survived. On another mission clearing a house, Toby went first, immediately sat at the door and would not allow anyone to enter. His educated nose had found several mortar rounds booby-trapped to explode when someone flipped on the light switch.

Due to the intense requirements of this duty, SSD Teams remain together until one of them retires. When a handler changes bases, the dog goes with him, unlike other narcotics, explosives or patrol dogs used in the military. Currently Toby and his handler are based at Fort Hood, Texas.

For his work, Toby received special playtime with a ball. For his, Specialist Thomas J. Jackson was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for exceptionally meritorious service. Toby was also nominated for this award, but because our military does not recognize the heroism of dogs, we are nominating Toby as ACE Hero dog with the following comments from his handler:

"If I had to say anything about Toby's work, I would say this: I walked in front of everyone on countless missions, was engaged by enemy fire, had to run through fire to safety and then return fire to allow others to make it to safety. I've crept through the night to enter and exit enemy houses while looking for Taliban and weapons caches. I've ridden helicopters into fields next to houses full of insurgents, moments before storming them, then waited patiently for them to return to pick me up after the mission was over. I've done all of those things, but Toby did them by my side, and in most cases while walking in front of me. He saved my life and the lives of the men I worked with. I am an American Soldier, and he is my Hero."

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Ssgt Phillip Mendoza III and Rico

SSgt Phillip Mendoza III and Rico

The last read on the thermometer was a blistering 122 degrees with a major sandstorm en route. Good thing Rico couldn't read the thermometer or the weather forecast, as he might have protested this mission. It included road clearing, a non-descript euphemism for leading a foot patrol to ensure the path is not booby-trapped with explosives; using his nose to track down that tell-tale scent of explosive, wiring, and bomb parts that mean seriously bad news for anyone who encounters them. One miss and everyone has a grim day.

Rico is a nine year old Belgian Malinois trained in Bomb Detection and Patrol. He is based at Moody AFB, Georgia, but currently working with his partner, SSgt Phillip Mendoza III, near Baghdad as part of the 332nd ESFG (Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron). General duties include vehicle and luggage searches and perimeter patrols inside the wire, inside the compound, in relative safety. But oddly, this team prefers the adrenalin rush of work outside the wire, sometimes even in vineyards, orchards and fields which are much more like home than the moon-like landscape found in the Iraqi desert or the cluttered drab brown confines of base.

Rico and Mendoza, together for less than a year, gelled as a team in every sense of the word and have similar philosophies in life. This is Rico's fourth deployment to Iraq and Mendoza's fifth. They both relish long hours of grueling work, but they play even harder. Rico works dangerous missions in unbearable heat for a pat on the head and a round of fetch with his multi-colored ball. While the grey in his muzzle affirms his age, he acts like a puppy with all of his "off work" foolishness. Rico seems to take a lesson from Ashley Montagu's wisdom: "I want to die young at a ripe old age." Each day he rises before dawn and is eager to go out and do his thing with his best buddy.

A recent emotionally rewarding find for this team was the uncovering of a roadway IED. Walking point at a dangerous roadway location, the team was conducting a search when Rico alerted strongly, convincing Mendoza that something wicked was in the route. They marked the area, and then ran back towards their patrol, Rico actually ahead of Mendoza chasing that crazy multi-colored ball into relative safety. They called for explosive experts to clear the spot. What they found below the rocky road was in fact a very nasty weapon: a 152mm shell with additional explosives buried below the ground in an attempt to kill and injure Coalition Forces who frequented that roadway. It could have done immense damage and changed many, many lives for the worse, but it didn't; one more success for this amazing team.

After that find, Mendoza visited the chow hall and brought back two juicy rib-eye steaks for Rico knowing he deserved them. Mendoza plans to make Rico's retirement cushy by adopting him when this ebullient dog's military service is complete.

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Al Dodds and Tess

Tess

Tess, a jubilant German Shepherd Dog, and her owner/handler, Al Dodds, had been working with a Search and Rescue group in the southeastern U.S. for a few years, when Tess' special skill in Human Remains Detection offered them a bigger challenge, a chance to contract with the U.S. Army and go to Iraq, primarily in search of missing American Soldiers. The U.S. Military does not have a program to produce Human Remains Detection Dogs.

Al, a 60 year old former Military Dog Handler served his country in Vietnam while walking Sentry with his Navy K-9. He's excited to be working K-9 again. "Like many Vietnam veterans, I carried a feeling of unfinished business," he said, "I approached this as an opportunity to answer that, to have another chance. A lot of guys I served with in Vietnam would have jumped at it, too. And, I feel honored to be supporting the military and blessed to be healthy enough to do so at my age."

For over a year and a half, Tess has been working all of the hot spots in Iraq: Mosul, Ba'qubah, Fallujah, Mahmoudiya, Baghdad and every sandy spot in between. It's not just "Search and Rescue", it's "Search and Rescue on steroids". Anytime Tess is called out to search an area identified by intel as a possible site for either a missing American or a mass grave, she is required to have an entourage with her. Depending on how dangerous the mission may be, there may be a caravan of vehicles with helicopters providing security overhead. While all searches are a collaboration of teamwork, Tess' talented nose is a major key to the find.

Tess has gone to desolate locations where no trace of human activity can be found and has tracked down that one molecule of special scent that she is seeking, finding two mass graves and five individual graves so far. Her handler gives her the search command, and Tess begins her hunt for any scent of Human Remains. Tess' reward for hours of grueling hot, sandy work? Playtime with a special purple Kong toy.

Among the most emotionally rewarding finds for her handler is the recent return of the remains of an Ohio Soldier who was captured by insurgents in April 2004, after his convoy came under attack near Baghdad International Airport.

While no one wants to find bad news, bringing home the remains of America's Military Men and Women is of critical importance to the moral of the other Soldiers. And, it allows the family to begin grieving and closure.

There are currently still three Americans missing from this War and a fourth man is still missing from the First Gulf War so the search goes on. And, for the moment, Tess is on the front lines, her nose rising and lowering with the hot, dry air currents that will bring her that one special scent molecule, that one step closer to success--one step closer to bringing home one more American hero.

Written by Dixie Whitman, MWDTSA
Submitted via Ozark Kennel Club, Missouri

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