- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II/ Released
Taking life-saving measures on behalf of a MWD is something all handlers prepare for before they deploy, as do their dogs. Handlers’ veterinary knowledge should extend beyond the basics of day-to-day care, and they are trained to do things like administer IVs, identify the onset of shock and poisonous bites, set broken bones, and bandage bullet wounds, among other specialized care that may be necessary in combat theater.
So, when handlers — and the community of servicemen and women who support them outside the wire — say that a MWD is treated like any other soldier or Marine in their ranks, they not only mean it, they practice for it.
In February, Ted, a yellow Labrador retriever and bomb specialist, and his handler U.S. Army Sgt. Leslie Langford, along with others at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, LA, practiced combat patient care and “aeromedical evacuation in a simulated combat environment.”
U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joselito G. Aribuabo
The training consisted of what appears to have been a variety of simulated injuries — human and canine alike. Together, Ted and Sgt. Langford endured a host of training exercises that included X-rays, having his leg set in a splint, and a litter carry to a Black Hawk helicopter.
Along with MWD Ted and Sgt. Langford from the 550th Military Working Dog Detachment out of Fort Bragg, the servicemen and women participating in these exercises were medical personnel (including veterinarians) attached 328th Combat Support Hospital among others.
U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. John R. Nimmo, Sr
Almost as important as defaulting to the proper motions of emergency care is preparing for the momentum of adrenaline and stress that builds during a combat crisis. A handler has to know how his or her dog will react under strain, to be braced for it, to be practiced at it as a team. From the photos — especially this one — it looks like Ted tolerated the chaos and the discomfort, if begrudgingly.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.