War Dog II

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Thrill seekers: The first U.S. dog to take a "military parachute free fall" was Pal, a 46-pound German shepherd, in 1969. He made that jump with Sergeant First Class Jesse Mendez, a scout dog trainer during the Vietnam War.

But do dogs like leaping out of planes and helicopters?

Apparently, they enjoy it more than you would. One handler recently told the Times of London, "Dogs don't perceive height difference.... They're more likely to be bothered by the roar of the engines, but once we're on the way down, that doesn't matter and they just enjoy the view.... [The dog] has a much cooler head than most recruits."

As former Marine and dog handler Mike Dowling put it in an interview, "As long as the dog is with the handler, he's loving life."

Above U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Chris LaLonde, center, holds his military working dog, Sgt. Maj. Fosco, while jumpmaster Kirby Rodriguez, behind them, deploys his parachute during the military's first tandem airborne jump with a canine from an altitude of 12,500 feet onto Gammon Parade Field on Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., on Sept. 18, 2009.

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The war dog retirement plan: For some dogs, the days of parachuting out of planes and tours in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan end sooner than others - whether it's from fatigue, a debilitating injury from battle, or a personality that's just not cut out for the rigors of war. But the military works hard to find all these dogs good adoptive homes.

Irano, an 11-year-old retired military dog, is a good example. A former explosives detection dog, Irano has a debilitating disease called degenerative lumbosacral stenosis and has lost most of the function in his hind legs. But the Air Force found a good home for him with Army Sgt. Jeffrey Souder -- who has even built him a custom wheelchair.

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The difference a dog makes: No matter how war dogs were involved on that fateful day in Abbottabad, the military's canine forces are doing more than their fair share. And even if the true story of what happened never comes out, we already have plenty of legendary war dogs to celebrate: the three stray mutts living on a base in Afghanistan who wrestled a suicide bomber to the ground, forcing him to detonate before ever reaching the barracks where 50 soldiers lay sleeping; the fatally wounded handler who called for his dog with his last breath; the bomb-sniffing dog who, after his trainer was killed in Afghanistan, succumbed shortly after of a "broken heart."

Like other handlers, Dowling knows this from experience. His dog Rex was "a great moral boost, a symbol of home. You come back to base [to these dogs] that are so freakin' loyal -- a dog who is waiting for you, who will play with you because they love you.... There are so many benefits."

Above Lance Cpl. Daniel Franke, a dog handler attached to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2, enjoys a quiet moment in Towrah Ghundey, Afghanistan, on June 11, 2010.

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