KONGs for K9s: How pet stores and veterinary clinics can take part

This image features the KONGs for K9s logo, MWDTSA logo, and the two KONG toys that participating retailers are collecting in this year's drive. One is a KONG Extreme Tire. The other is a throw-tug toy.

The annual KONGs for K9s drive kicked off on August 1 and will continue through December 31, 2018. It’s a collaboration between MWDTSA and KONG Company. The matching program helps us provide KONG toys to military working dog teams deployed in global combat zones.

Here’s how the KONGs for K9s program works…

Participation is easy:

  1. Pet stores, clinics, and other dog-loving enterprises pick a month or more to take part. You collect one or both of the specific KONG toys shown in the photo above: https://www.kongcompany.com/products/for-dogs/rubber-toys/extreme-rubber-toys/kong-tires/ and/or https://www.kongcompany.com/products/for-dogs/rubber-toys/interactive-rubber-toys/tails/.
  2. MWDTSA will provide you with posters for your store, describing the initiative.
  3. You order in a supply of the toy and create a display to draw customers’ attention to the matching program. Some retailers place the display by the register and ask every customer, “Would you like to donate a KONG to a military working dog deployed in a global combat zone?” This active approach often results in more donations.
  4. Your patrons purchase the KONGs at regular retail price (or whatever price you set) and leave them with you at the register. Some stores set up visible donation bins so that customers can see the number of donated toys. Other stores tuck the donated KONGs in a back room.
  5. At the end of the drive, MWDTSA will pick up the donated KONGs from your store, if we have a volunteer in your local area. If we don’t have a volunteer near your store, we will provide shipping instructions on how to get them to us.

Once we receive your toys, we document the quantity and notify KONG. For each toy donated by your customers, KONG is matching with a second toy.

Calling all dog-loving businesses

There’s still time to sign up for 2018. Just contact president@MWDTSA.org if you’d like to take part. Indicate the name and address of your organization. Also, specify which month works best for your KONG donation drive, and which toy above you’d like to collect. We will get the posters to you right away.

While most KONGs for K9s participants are pet-related businesses, that’s not a requirement. In 2017, our largest KONG total came from Veterans United Craft Brewery. We also received KONGS from CrossFit Invasion, a fitness studio in New York!

Thanks for your interest and support!

You rock, MWDTSA Q2 corporate sponsors!

Photo of deployed military working dog next to care package contents from corporate sponsors.

MWDTSA could not send quarterly care packages to military working dog teams without the help of generous corporate sponsors and donors. Our Q2 boxes, which arrived in time for Independence Day, contained goodies from the 29 organizations listed at the end of this post, many of them veteran-owned. Please visit their web sites and explore their products.

We also extend a heartfelt thanks to the dozens of individual donors and Amazon Wish List participants, whose contributions rounded out each box. We are grateful for your support!

If pictures are worth a thousand words, tail wags are worth 10,000. We hope you enjoy these photos, submitted by Q2 care package recipients…

Q2 photo gallery

MWD is laying on a cot, wearing his handler's hat and posing with care package contents.Malinois looks up at the camera, sitting in front of a chair where care package contents are displayed.

MWD with expressive eyes and one ear flopped forward sits on the floor next to care package contents.Care package contents line a kitchen counter. MWD sits on the floor in front of the counter staring intently at the camera.

Care package contents sit on a sand bag in the foreground. Three handlers and their MWDs stand in the background modeling the 'Merica-themed MWDTSA t-shirts and MWDTSA athletic shorts that were included in the Q2-2019 care packages.
Each care package contained a t-shirt and athletic shorts for the handler, but in this photo, a military working dog is modeling the t-shirt and shorts. Hilarious!

An MWD sits alert on the floor next to a handler's bed. On the bed, care package contents are carefully laid out in front of the box they arrived in.

 

Q2 corporate sponsors and donors

 

For more information on how you can become a MWDTSA corporate sponsor or donor, email president@mwdtsa.org. Thank you for your interest in our mission!

 

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/.

Memorial Day: Remembering the ultimate sacrifice

Handler and military working dog stand before MWD memorial on Guam.
For Memorial Day: “25 Marine War Dogs gave their lives liberating Guam in 1944. They served as sentries, messengers, and scouts. They explored caves, and detected mines and booby traps.” U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class John F. Looney [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At church this morning, the pastor said, “Stand up and say Happy Memorial Day to the people around you.” I bristled, and my mind traveled back to a 1983 conversation with Moshe, a 15-year-old Israeli exchange student.

Moshe’s stay in the U.S. included the Memorial Day weekend, and he passionately spoke out against the celebratory atmosphere. “This is wrong,” he said. “Memorial Day isn’t about partying and shopping. It’s about remembering the sacrifice of those who gave their lives to protect our freedoms. It is supposed to be a solemn occasion. You don’t say, ‘Happy Memorial Day.’ You say, ‘Thank you.’”

Moshe’s words continue to resonate with me today. Ads announcing big Memorial Day blowout sales compete with media coverage of commemorative activities and veterans’ stories. Low-price promises and beer fests distract us from the meaning and intent of the day.

We, the volunteers of MWDTSA, encourage you to take time this weekend to reflect on the sacrifices of our nation’s two- and four-legged heroes. Visit a cemetery, study the grave markers, and place flags or flowers to say thank you. Watch a documentary, begin a biography, or read news articles about a fallen service member.

MWDTSA thanks handlers and MWDs, past and present, for your dedication to preserving our nation’s freedoms and protecting the United States of America. We feel enormous gratitude for your service.

Mayport Moments

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

Story and photos by Dixie Whitman

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

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

Surprise, surprise!!

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

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

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

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

Reflecting on Kings Bay

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

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

Presents for all

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

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

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

Meeting the Mayport teams

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

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

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

“Painting” and wordplay

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

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

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

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

The Tour-de-Mayport

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

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

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

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

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

Q1-2018 packing day recap

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

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

Gearing up

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

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

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

Staging

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

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

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

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

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

Packing day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos by Anna Steere and Leigh Steere

Align Orthodontics patients raise $926.50 for MWDTSA

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

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

Wearing rubber bands, head gear or retainer as prescribed?

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

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

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

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

Align Orthodontics military ties

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Packing commences for Q1-2018

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

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

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

The packing coordinator…

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photographer Dick Durrance encourages support of active duty troops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeless advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.)