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.)

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.
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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.