COMBAT OUTPOST SHABU, HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Leading patrols and sniffing out improvised explosive devices may seem like a game for Cpl. Twister, but what she doesn’t know, is that this "game" is saving the lives of many Marines.
Twister is a four year-old black labrador used to find IEDs for Marines with the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. Many dogs such as her are being used with great success throughout the Marine Corps.
“There are many dogs in the battalion that have found IEDs,” said Lance Cpl. Cody Campioni, a dog handler with the Dog Handler Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. The dogs can find IED’s a lot more accurate and faster than a metal detector can.”
Dogs were first used in the Marine Corps to find the enemy during World War II. The number of dogs brought to Afghanistan to find explosive devices has increased throughout the years.
“Luckily we haven’t encountered one yet, but if we do, I am more than confident she will find it,” said Campioni, a Point Mills, Mich., native.
The dogs can detect more than 10 different types of materials used to make industrial explosives and homemade explosives.
“We’ve had a dog find three IEDs in under an hour,” Campioni said. “We give the orders and they follow them, they’re very obedient to their handler and that makes it so much easier.”
In order to become dog handlers, Marines participate in a six to eight-week course with the dogs at the American K-9 Interdiction School.
“We spend a lot of time with the dogs to build up trust between the dog handler and the dog,” Campioni said. “To be able to operate well you have to trust the dog and the dog has to trust you.”
Not only do they spend a lot of time with dogs during training, but also spend all their time with the dogs during the deployment.
“I have to make sure the dog is well fed, that she has enough water throughout the day and make sure she is medically okay,” Campioni said. “Having a dog with you on a deployment is like having a piece of home with you.”
The dogs also give Marines more options when it comes to tactical searching.
“The dog helps us whenever we search vehicles, buildings and bridges and it makes our job a lot more effective,” said Cpl. James Hammond, a team leader with 3rd Platoon, Company A, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. “Especially when we can’t really reach certain areas we can send the dog in to search.”
Being able to search an area accurately with the dogs makes the Marines more confident in their abilities on the battlefield, explained Hammond, a Redmond, Wash., native.
“I feel we can do more by having the dogs with us,” Hammond said. “The dogs provide us with a sense of security.”