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Lance Cpl. Trevor M. Smith, a 20-year-old combat tracker dog handler from Myrtle Beach, S.C., with Task Force Military Police, I Marine Expeditionary Force, in support of Task Force 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, taunts Grek, a military working dog, who replies with intimidating snarls. The working dogs’ keen senses make them a valuable resource when searching for improvised explosive devices and tracking down the insurgents who made them.

Photo by Cpl. Sean P. Cummins

K9s take a bite out of insurgents

4 Dec 2008 | Cpl. Sean P. Cummins

Dogs have accompanied warriors into combat since the Romans outfitted large mastiffs with armored collars.  The large dogs would attack the legs of their opponents, forcing them to lower their shields and expose the rest of their body to the lethal thrusts of the Roman legionaries.

The uses for dogs in combat, though, have since evolved from armored beasts to fine-tuned tools capable of seeking out bomb-making materials, running down fleeing insurgents or tracking bad guys miles away.

Their extraordinary bite and keen senses make dogs a valuable resource when searching for improvised explosive devices and tracking down the insurgents who made them.

Each dog on a military working dog team has its own skill set that lends itself to different roles within a mission.  Patrol dogs are used to find the location of an IED or the spot where an insurgent fired rockets or mortars.  Combat tracker dogs are then used to track the culpable insurgents.

“Say someone planted an IED on the side of the road, my dog tracks wherever (the insurgents) might have gone to,” said Lance Cpl. Trevor M. Smith, 20, a combat tracker dog handler from Myrtle Beach, S.C., with Task Force Military Police, I Marine Expeditionary Force, working in support of Task Force 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5. “They provide good intelligence to see where the insurgents keep going day after day so we can find these guys and actually shut down their cells.”

Once the combat tracker dogs locate the general vicinity of the insurgents’ whereabouts, a specialized search dog can help check houses or building.

“I can send the dog into a building, and the dog can systematically search all the rooms.  By the response the dog gives when it comes back out, I can tell if there’s something in there,” said Cpl. Elbert R. Kennon, 23, a specialized search dog trainer and instructor from Bismarck, Mo.

Though the dogs are highly trained and react to the commands of their handlers, the team stresses that they are still military working dogs and should be treated as another weapon or tool for finding insurgents.

“I don’t think people know what our capabilities are.  They look at our dogs and they think it’s a (recreational) tool, like we’re here to let the dogs run around and be pets, and that’s not what we’re here for,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Thompson, a master at arms and kennel master from Sidnaw, Mich., attached to 3rd Bn., 7th Marines. “We’re here to save lives, and we need to be utilized.”

The dog handlers work with their dogs daily to maintain the high level of proficiency that is required to keep them in the fleet, knowing the lives of their fellow Marines and sailors may one day be saved by their dogs.

“They cannot mimic what these dogs do with a machine,” said Thompson. “(They are) more cost effective, they save man hours and they’re great assets to have. Hopefully they’ll never take dogs out of the military.”


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