On the front lines of deadly armed conflicts, soldiers count on their canine companions to keep them safe from hidden threats and help them get back home alive.
There are many dangers soldiers and canines face in the field of battle, such as explosive devices and crude bombs that are often disguised as everything from car parts to roadside trash. But thanks to military working dogs, many soldiers are saved before disaster strikes.
“They know the dog has been proven. [The dog] can find explosives, and they know it is going to keep them safe,” Army Sgt. 1st Class Roberto Citrullo, kennel master who supervises the service’s 8th Military Working Dog Detachment at Fort Drum, told Insider in an interview. “[The dogs] definitely saved not only my life, but multiple other service members’ lives by finding IEDs and other things that were just ready to go off and hurt someone.”
Army Sgt. Kristin Vanderzanden, squad leader and patrol explosive detection dog handler at Fort Polk, told Insider that the stakes are high for bomb detection dogs and their handlers.
“One of my teammates went out on a mission with his dog, and they got hit by a suicide bomber,” Vanderzanden said. “We didn’t know if either of them was going to make it.”
The dogs start their training around seven or eight months old. They are taught a variety of complex skills, from finding narcotics and explosives to engaging enemy combatants.
A dog named Conan first made headlines last fall for his role in special forces that resulted in the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
These military working dogs are unlike the others. They do not get spooked easily by thunder, fireworks, and other loud noises. Since they were young, they have accompanied their handlers during live-fire training exercises, and have familiarized themselves with the weapons of war so as they do not panic to gunfire or explosions.
Just like their humans, the military also makes sure the dogs get the treatment they deserve because “they are selfless” as said by Col. Andrew McGraw, a military veterinarian and director of the Lt. Col. Daniel E. Holland Military Working Dog Hospital.
Lt. Col. Patrick Grimm, military veterinarian and radiologist at the working dog hospital, shared to Business Insider, that he was once called in the middle of the night following reports of an ambush.
Grimm narrated about half a dog was wrapped in an American flag after he had been hit with an IED and there was nothing he or his team could do to save him.
“I saw the kennel master from the special forces team that was involved in the mission in the corner,” he said. “I went over to him and he was crying.”
“You can’t spend that amount of time with an animal and not become attached,” he added. “[Losing a dog can be] a traumatic experience. [But] the Army has always been very supportive. There are ceremonies for working dogs just as they would have a ceremony for a fallen service member.”
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