Military Dogs… Saving American Lives Since World War I

In 2019, the U.S. Central command conducted a raid in Barisha, Syria. It resulted in the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

In 2011, U.S. Navy SEALS conducted a raid on a compound in Pakistan. It resulted in the death of al-Qaeda founder and leader Osama bin Laden.

Both raids benefited from the assistance of military dogs. As have many other operations that brought down terrorists.

Today I’d like to pay homage to these courageous canines. They supply valuable assistance to humans risking their lives to keep our country safe.

Stubby: WWI Hero

First, a little history. Man’s best friend has served in wars since at least 600 B.C. The Lydian king deployed dogs to help break the invading Cimmerians army.

Fast forward nearly 2,500 years. A Confederate spy hid secret documents in the fur of her dog during the Civil War. The canine delivered the papers to General Pierre G.T. Beauregard.  

The U.S. had an unofficial canine war force during World War I. A Terrier named Stubby served overseas with the 102nd Infantry. He gave early warning to soldiers of artillery, gas and infantry attacks.

Despite being wounded by a hand grenade, Stubby remained in the war. He later apprehended a German spy. And was promoted from private to sergeant. 

Dogs for Defense 

But it wasn’t until the Second World War that U.S. military dogs were officially recognized for their efforts.

Dogs for Defense, a private group, was established to recruit dogs for military service.

Many of these dogs came from the Doberman Pinscher Club of America. They were known as the K-9 Corps.

Linked closely with Marines, the Dobermans were not merely morale boosters. They served as sentries, scouts, mine detectors and messengers during World War II.

A Variety of Breeds

Other breeds were also recruited to serve in the U.S. military. Including Airedale Terriers and Boxers. Plus Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds and Saint Bernards.

By war’s end, there were nearly 20,000 dogs in the service. One of the most famous was Chips, a German Shepherd/Collie/Husky mix.

Despite being wounded, he contributed to the capture of 14 Axis soldiers in one day. It was during the invasion of Sicily.

Donated by a New York family, Chips was credited with saving the lives of many U.S. soldiers. He earned a Purple Heart and Silver Star. 

Serving in Korea & Vietnam

Military dogs were also used during the Korean and Vietnam wars. In Korea, they were deployed on combat night patrols. They ambushed snipers, penetrated enemy lines and sniffed out enemy positions.

In Vietnam, some 4,000 dogs were used for various tasks. Including alerting U.S soldiers to Viet Cong ambushes. The dogs withstood thick vegetation and endless rain, heat and humidity to do their jobs. 

Richard Cunningham was a sentry-dog handler in Vietnam. And later a New York Police Department worker. Here’s what he said.

“I’ve heard it said that without our military dogs there would be 10,000 additional names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall. I, for one, think that’s an understatement.”

Medal of Courage

 More recently, these three dogs won the K-9 Medal of Courage for their efforts in the Middle East.

  • Troll, a Dutch Shepherd who helped safely evacuate a critically injured soldier in Afghanistan. Troll conducted 89 combat missions. He cleared routes of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and helped conduct compound raids.
  • K-9 Niko, a Dutch Shepherd. He spent four years in Afghanistan protecting U.S. and foreign dignitaries. Plus embassy personnel. He conducted more than 600 missions for the U.S. State Department. He now lives on the Alaskan frontier.
  • Emmie, a 12-year-old black Labrador. She completed three tours of duty in Afghanistan. They were on behalf of the U.S. Marine Corps during Operation Enduring Freedom. Now retired, she helps with the care of her handler’s autistic son.  

Improving Detection Rates

How capable are these military dogs? Their sense of smell is about 50 times stronger than ours. So, they can sniff out IEDs before they detonate.

Ground patrols find about 50 percent of IEDs before detonation. But the detection rate increases to 80 percent when dogs do the job. That’s according to the Defense Department.

Louis Robinson is an Air Force K9 handler. He estimates that a fully trained bomb detection canine is worth more than $150,000.

The U.S. continues to import many dogs from Eastern Europe, due to their pedigrees. But increasingly military dogs are “home-grown.” Especially since the establishment of the American Kennel Club Detection Task Force.

Stamp of Approval

In addition to breeds mentioned earlier, others have been recruited for service. They include the Belgian Malinois, Rottweiler, Giant Schnauzer, Alaskan Malamutes and Huskies, and Yorkshire Terriers. 

Next time you’re at the post office, consider requesting the forever stamp honoring the contributions of military working dogs.

It features the four most common breeds associated with military work. They are the German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherd.

We don’t need another reason to love and admire our canine friends. But it’s good to know some are heroically helping keep our active military members safe.    

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