This sailor and his dog save lives

This photo shows MA2 Devon Johnson and his military working dog, MWD Kalo, posing in front of a U.S. flag. This sailor and his dog save lives.

Recently, an email appeared in MWDTSA’s inbox entitled, “This Sailor and His Dog Save Lives.” It turned out to be an article by longtime MWDTSA donor Duke Cannon about a care package recipient! With Duke Cannon’s permission, we are reprinting the full interview below. We are grateful for their unwavering support of MWDTSA’s mission to support both ends of the leash. Please check out their amazing products!

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If you’re familiar with Duke Cannon, you know we have a special place in our hearts for those who serve our country. And we have an even bigger place in our hearts for dogs. So imagine how we feel about dogs who serve our country. (If we used emojis, it would be the face with hearts for eyes.)
 
This month, our Good Folks Project pays tribute to two heroes with a total of six legs: MA2 Devon Johnson and his military working dog, MWD Kalo. The duo travels worldwide to sniff out threats in order to keep our bases and embassies safe. In their downtime, they boost soldier morale with a heavy dose of tail wags. We are grateful for the hard work Devon and Kalo dedicate to their country, and we’re honored to share their story.

A NO-BS INTERVIEW WITH DEVON JOHNSON

How did you get involved with Military Dog Handling?

When I was first joining the Navy, I got taken by my recruiter to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island to see what my future job as a Master-At-Arms would be. It was a lot of law enforcement and gate duty until I met the handlers and fell in love. I did everything I could to get selected for it in our training school, but with no luck. So, my next choice was to volunteer at the Kennels in Bahrain. I would come in on my off time as Kennel Support helping the real handlers do their job and learning from a great group of people. From there I ended up getting a letter of recommendation from the Kennel Master, and leaving Bahrain with Military Working Dog Handler orders to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

What does a normal day look like for Kalo and you?

A normal work day for us always starts out with giving him breakfast, then grooming him to make sure he’s ready for the day. After that we start our day with obedience work in explosive detection training and end our day in some kind of patrol A.K.A. “bite work”. We can and do get calls throughout the day for vehicle searches or searches of unattended bags, as we are the base’s narcotics and explosive experts.

How does Kalo help fellow soldiers, even on the toughest days?

The biggest benefit I saw was during our time in Kuwait with the National Guard. For most of the soldiers, it was their first time away from home, let alone time in the Middle East. So we allowed them to come in, get in the bite suits, pet the dogs, and show them what we do daily. It was an amazing experience to see their faces brighten up when they see dogs, especially since most people think they’re overly aggressive – but they’re just big ol’ teddy bears.

They say a dog is a man’s best friend – is this true for you and Kalo?

Oh yes it is! I love that dog as if he were my son and he made days when it was hard for me 100x better. You spend everyday with him, talk to him, workout with him, and even eat with him so you build this bond that you will never build with anyone else. We have our days when we fight – like when I just got to one of the borders for a mission and he decided he wanted to take all my clean clothes out of my bag to lay in instead of lay on his or my bed, so I didn’t have any clean clothes for a week.

Which Duke Cannon products are essential for your daily hygiene on base? Which is Kalo’s favorite scent?

The biggest must have is the Cold Shower Cooling Field Towels. I love these things to death, especially traveling between countries or when you are on duty/somewhere it’s hard to get a shower. You guys supply them to MWDTSA and we get them in care packages which help out so much. I’ll have to say Kalo’s favorite scent besides explosives is Naval Supremacy because we are U.S Navy Sailors for life. 


The Duke Cannon Good Folks Project aims to highlight hard working men and women and pups making a positive impact on their community and country.

“It takes a village”

This photo shows the Soda Pup "Heart on a String" rope toy, along with the front and back of a card we enclosed in each care package describing the collaboration with Dita the Hairmissile Dog. It takes a village to fill each care package.

We often say, “It takes a village” to fill our quarterly care packages. Four times a year, we send out approximately 200 large USPS Flat-Rate boxes, and we aim to fill them completely. Many thanks to the following Q1-2019 corporate donors…

Scout Troop 171 in Boulder, Colorado periodically sells coffee to raise money for backpacking trips and Scout camps. This year, they added an option for non-coffee drinkers—the opportunity to donate coffee for MWDTSA care packages.

Creative collaboration

This photo shows the three coffee blends MWDTSA included in Q1-2019 care packages.Sticks Coffee in Superior, Colorado also hosted a coffee fundraiser. As patrons streamed in from hockey tournaments, the cashiers asked, “Would you like to add a $10 donation to your purchase today to send coffee to a deployed military working dog handler?” Signs on the doors and at the register invited customers to take part in the drive.

Meanwhile, 822 miles away, Coffee.org of Fort Smith, Arkansas offered a stunning bulk purchase discount. This allowed donor dollars to stretch further to cover 100 percent of MWDTSA’s Q1-2019 coffee needs. We sent three small bags of coffee in each Q1 box, including a special blend that Coffee.org formulated specifically for MWDTSA. The label featured our “You and me” Q1 logo and the words “Reveille Blend: Just like the bugle, this coffee will wake you up!”

A neighborhood effort

This photo shows packets of Smokehouse Jerky Company Gourmet Brisket Beef Jerky.A post to the Oh-Oh-Two-Seven Facebook page, which serves zip codes 80027 and 80026, brought forth additional offers of help. Louisville Realty Associates (LRA) asked about our greatest Q1 needs. We had not yet secured Q1 jerky donations for handlers or dogs, so they took on that activity.

The same week LRA stepped forward, Smokehouse Jerky of California offered another generous bulk purchase discount. LRA, Nickerson Marketing, and Deep End Solutions pooled resources to fund the jerky purchase for handlers. Additionally, LRA made a personal introduction to a friend at Buckley Pet, a local dog treat manufacturer. Buckley Pet donated 200 bags of Skin & Coat Beef Jerky, enough to send one in every care package.

For the handlers…

This handsome FIFTY/FIFTY 20-ounce tumbler displays the Truckers for Troops logo.OOIDA (Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association) of Grain Valley, Missouri sponsors a “Truckers for Troops” fundraiser each year. Taking advantage of a generous discount from FIFTY/FIFTY, OOIDA purchased 200 coffee tumblers for our Q1-2019 boxes.

We stuffed these 20-ounce tumblers to the brim with donations from Juanita’s Pepitas, Perfetti Van Melle, Phillips Pet Food & Supplies, Picky Bars, Sweetwood Smokehouse, and VerMints.

Other handler surprises included dried apricots from Mariani Packing Company; Blue Diamond Smokehouse Almonds; Honey Stinger waffles; Cocomels from JJ’s Sweets, Inc.; cooling wipes from Duke Cannon; and magazines from 5280.

Each handler also received a t-shirt emblazed with “You and me, Malintine,” in honor of Valentine’s Day. We are grateful to Christian Print Shop, Inc. of Alpharetta, Georgia for their long-term support of MWDTSA with high-quality t-shirts. And to the five Kohl’s employees from the Louisville, Colorado store, who folded all 200 t-shirts into plastic bags with size labels!

The students of Jefferson Academy in Broomfield, Colorado created art to include in the care packages. This school has supported MWDTSA with art three times—Q4-2016, Q4-2017, and Q1-2019.

For the four-legged troops…

Woobamboo donated Large-Breed toothbrushes for the second year in a row.

A Petco Foundation grant, coupled with bulk purchase pricing from Prima Pets, enabled us to send a sturdy collapsible dog bowl in each care package.

Rex Specs hosted a donation drive in December to collect protective eyewear for our military working dog teams.

“Dita’s Donation Drop,” sponsored by Dita The Hairmissile, plus a matching program by SodaPup, yielded 200 Heart-on-a-String toys for our Q1-2019 boxes. And yes, these dogs do have our human hearts on a string.

Thanks to the annual KONGs for K9s drive, we included the KONG Extreme Tire in each care package. Numerous retailers and veterinary clinics help with this drive each year—including three that contributed to Q1-2019 care packages in other ways. Action-Packed Pup collected both tires and undercoat rakes. Kriser’s Natural Pet in Westminster, Colorado invited us to do an in-store event to collect tires and dog jerky.

A special shout-out to Chuck and Don’s Pet Food & Supplies (Longmont, Erie, and Arvada, Colorado). The Longmont store has hosted MWDTSA for in-store fundraising events for 30 straight months. They have taken part in the KONGs for K9s drive for three years. They have led our quarterly care package assembly twice. The managers of the Erie and Arvada stores, along with an Arvada team member, spearheaded our Q1-2019 packing event.

And last but not least…

Hats off to the Louisville (CO) Police Department for hosting our 2019 packing event and allowing us to make a temporary mess in the basement of the police station. We are grateful for your hospitality—two years in a row.

And to the United States Postal Service in Louisville, Colorado for spending a Sunday with us for the second year in a row. It was amazing to have you at the end of our packing line, and you worked tirelessly to get the boxes to the Post Office on a cold night, well after sunset.

Many thanks to all who made the Q1-2019 care packages possible, including a multitude of Amazon Wish List donors. UPS Store 1905 graciously received the many Amazon boxes and manufacturer donations, holding packages for us until we could pick them up. Nashville Wraps provided bags and ribbon for packaging donated candy.

Your contributions allow us to support both ends of the leash, and we are grateful.

Interested in helping with future care packages? Here are 14 ways to get involved, including a link to our Amazon Wish List. Or reach out to president@MWDTSA.org.

14 ways to support military working dog teams

This photo shows care packages items sent in Q1-2019 to support military working dog teams.

If you, a group, or your company would like to support military working dog teams, here are several ways to get involved. Pick something from the following list, or use these ideas as inspiration for a new endeavor. It takes a village to fill our quarterly care packages. We invite you to join us in supporting both ends of the leash.

1) Donate 200 of an item.

We try to make each quarter’s care packages relatively uniform, so that all recipients are getting the same dog toys, snacks, etc. This means we need 200 of any item we’re planning to send. Every quarter, we aim to include made-in-USA jerky, dog treats, human snacks, grooming products, and other supplies. If your company makes a product you think handlers or their dogs might like, let’s talk! If you are able to provide the full quantity of an item, we add you to our sponsor page (https://mwdtsa.org/sponsors/). We also highlight your involvement via our social media channels.

2) Provide a bulk-purchase discount.

If you are not able to outright donate 200 of a particular product, consider offering a bulk purchase discount. If MWDTSA can buy your product below wholesale cost, the difference between your discounted and wholesale price is tax-deductible. We provide a donor acknowledgement letter for your tax records.

3) Offer a matching program.

Customers buy one, and you throw in a second—so we end up with two care package items for the price of one.

4) Team together to sponsor a care package item.

Maybe you’re a real estate company or high-tech firm that doesn’t manufacture products, but you’d still like to help fill care packages. MWDTSA can match you with a bulk-purchase discount, enabling your organization’s donation dollars to have more purchase power.

5) Plan a fundraiser.

In the past, volunteers have coordinated golf tournaments, 5Ks, nail trimming events, Chick-fil-A fundraising nights, and other creative activities—all to raise money for MWDTSA care packages. Destination Imagination teams, Scout troops, Bar/Bat Mitzvah candidates, coffee shops, breweries, and others looking for a service opportunity can make a big impact for MWDTSA.

6) Host a toy/treat drive.

If you own a retail store, veterinary clinic, or grooming salon, you can order in one of our wish-list products, place it at the register, and ask clients, “Would you like to add a treat for a military working dog to your purchase today? We’re collecting care package items for dogs deployed in global combat zones.” Customers leave their donation with you, and at the end of the drive, MWDTSA makes arrangements to get the donated products to our packing location.

7) Make an introduction.

Maybe your neighbor’s company produces an amazing snack item. We can equip you to approach your friend with a donation request. Your personal introduction can pave the way for important new partnerships and collaborations.

8) Add MWDTSA as an option on your order form.

If your kids are selling coffee or candy to raise money for their school or sports teams, they probably encounter the word “no” quite a bit. What if they could add this to their spiel: “If you are not a coffee consumer, you can also support our school/team by purchasing coffee to donate to a deployed military working dog handler.”

9) Adopt a care package.

Each care package involves approximately $150 in products and postage. Manufacturers donate many of the items we include. However, every quarter, we need assistance to cover t-shirts, tactical patches, postage, and other items. You can “adopt” a package by making a $75 donation via PayPal to fill these needs. This option includes the following benefits for donors:

  1. We will include a card in the care package, acknowledging who sponsored the box.
  2. You can dedicate the box. For example, “We are sending this care package in honor of Joe Sample, who served in World War II.”

This is a fun option for a Scout troop, school group, company, or family that wants to support military working dog teams. For more information, contact president@mwdtsa.org.

10) Collect children’s art.

A colorful painting of a dog provides cheer for handlers. Each quarter, we need at least 200 pieces of children’s art. Contact president@mwdtsa.org for criteria regarding size, subject matter, and medium.

11) Write letters of encouragement.

No one knows about deployments better than veterans who have served in global combat zones. Think back to your time overseas. Are there funny stories you can share? Advice you wish you had known earlier? Poems that boosted your morale? We’re looking for veterans groups who would like to write letters so that every care package we send has a personal communication in it.

12) Join Amazon Smile.

If you regularly shop on Amazon for your business or home, Amazon Smile donates a portion of your purchase price to the nonprofit of your choice. Choose Military Working Dog Team Support Association, and every purchase you make will help support military working dog teams.

13) Visit our Amazon Wish List.

Each quarter, and for special occasions such as National K9 Veterans Day, we maintain a registry of products we plan to include in upcoming care packages. You simply purchase one or more items, and Amazon sends them directly to our packing coordinator. Each wish list donation is tax deductible.

14) Donate through PayPal.

To send one care package requires nearly $18 in postage, and we send about 200 boxes per quarter. Some individuals and businesses contribute dollars to cover the postage bill.

Thank you for helping us support both ends of the leash!

Photo credit: Alex Sierra, Kohl’s, Louisville, CO captured this image of MWDTSA’s Q1-2019 care package contents. Alex and four colleagues from Kohl’s helped with pre-packing activities such as folding 200 t-shirts and inserting them in plastic sleeves.

Q1-2019: You and me, Malintine

Military working dog wearing Rex Specs sits beside Q1-2019 care package contents.

MWDTSA formally acknowledged Valentine’s Day with its Q1-2019 care packages. It’s been over 10 years since we’ve featured hearts and romance in our boxes. While “romance” might be too strong a word, we set out to honor the timeless bond between handler and dog. It’s a special kind of love worth celebrating.

We fiddled with a few different ideas. Shep-heart. Love-rador. But we decided “You and me, Malintine” has a ring to it. Knowing that some handlers’ partners are not Malinois, we stopped at “You and me” for the tactical patches.

Pictures are starting to roll in, and this is one of our favorite so far! 🙂

p.s. If you’d like to contribute to Q2 care packages, visit MWDTSA’s Amazon wish list or our web site. Thanks for helping us support both ends of the leash.

Q2-2018 boxes timed for Independence Day

Cartoon drawing for Q2-2018 of Frank the Freedom Eagle and Merica the Mal.

On June 16, 27 volunteers met at Mills Park, Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, to assemble MWDTSA’s Q2-2018 boxes. Led by MWDTSA volunteer Jesca Daniels and Steel MMA & Fitness, the packing team also included representatives from three other groups. Faith, Kailin and Ashley helped on behalf of Pinups For Vets. As well, handlers and family members from MCAS Miramar and 32nd Street Naval Base joined the effort. The group packed 200 12”x12”x 5” USPS flat-rate cartons for military working dog teams in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.

In this photo, 27 Q2-2018 packing volunteers pose with the MWDTSA banner.

Photos by Honey Wasden Photography and Heather Shough Photography

“When I volunteered to coordinate the Q2-2018 packing event, I knew I wanted a theme related to Independence Day,” recalls Jesca. “I also wanted to make it fun, giving handlers a bit of a celebration in a box.”

“Each year at our July 4th celebration, folks shout ‘Merica 726,383 times,” quips Jesca. That might be a slight exaggeration, but the tradition inspired the humorous Q2 graphic design. Jesca painstakingly penned Frank the Freedom Eagle and Merica the Mal, with the goal of showing cause, pride, and humor.

 

This photo shows the t-shirt, athletic shorts, and baseball cap included in every Q2-2018 care package.
Marvin Madariaga incorporated Jesca’s illustration into a rock-star t-shirt design. This care package also included athletic shorts and a baseball cap for each handler.

A close-up photo of the FIFTY/FIFTY brand water bottle included in every care package.
MWDTSA volunteer Jenny Gan adapted the drawing into a graphic for the FIFTY/FIFTY bottle.

 

 

 

 

The majority of Q2-2018 care package contents came from veteran-owned businesses.

“It is cool to be able to promote veterans while also supporting active duty handlers,” says Jesca. “My goal was to include items that every handler would want and be able to use. I am confident that MWDTSA succeeded on that front.”

Logistics for MWDTSA care packing events vary from location to location. In this case, the United States Postal Service could not drive onsite for the packing event, due to base security. So, Jesca’s team rented a U-Haul to bring supplies to the park and later take the completed packages to the Post Office.

“It has been an absolute honor to be able to put this together for the deployed handlers,” notes Jesca. “The MWD community is my family and I am so grateful to be able to do this to show them how much they mean to all of us.”

Photo of volunteers packing boxes.

Photo shows contents of two 12"x12"x5" flat-rate boxes.
From Rex Specs to protect Special Operations dogs from rotor wash and desert sandstorms to collapsible bowls to keep MWDs hydrated, care packages include both practical items and treats for handlers and their four-legged comrades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volunteers prepare an assembly line to facilitate packing 200 boxes.
Volunteers arranged product cartons on picnic tables to facilitate a care package assembly line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For information on how you can support MWDTSA’s quarterly care packages, see https://mwdtsa.org/donate/.

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

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).

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?