Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week

By Rebecca Frankel Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent  "At the word ‘halt’ the dogs stopped, at the word ‘sit’ the dogs sat, at the word ‘down’ the dogs lay flat; at the word ‘stay’ the dogs stayed put as they were, while the men, the leashes dropped on the ground, marched on without them." –The ...

CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images
CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images
CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent 

"At the word ‘halt' the dogs stopped, at the word ‘sit' the dogs sat, at the word ‘down' the dogs lay flat; at the word ‘stay' the dogs stayed put as they were, while the men, the leashes dropped on the ground, marched on without them." -The WAAGs, by H. I. Brock, New York Times 1942

While doing some photo searching for an FP story, I came across a series of photographs shot in Helmand province this week of U.S. Marines with the unit's bomb-sniffing dogs on patrol and relaxing at base. (This pup is Corporal Books.) More than just cute pooches or pets, these dogfaces are fellow soldiers tasked with dangerous work, patrolling for IEDs and land mines. What struck me most about these photos more than the sincerity of affection on display was the sense of comfort and ease seeming so much at odds with their surroundings. 

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent 

"At the word ‘halt’ the dogs stopped, at the word ‘sit’ the dogs sat, at the word ‘down’ the dogs lay flat; at the word ‘stay’ the dogs stayed put as they were, while the men, the leashes dropped on the ground, marched on without them."The WAAGs, by H. I. Brock, New York Times 1942

While doing some photo searching for an FP story, I came across a series of photographs shot in Helmand province this week of U.S. Marines with the unit’s bomb-sniffing dogs on patrol and relaxing at base. (This pup is Corporal Books.) More than just cute pooches or pets, these dogfaces are fellow soldiers tasked with dangerous work, patrolling for IEDs and land mines. What struck me most about these photos more than the sincerity of affection on display was the sense of comfort and ease seeming so much at odds with their surroundings. 

Presently, the United States has 2,800 dogs enrolled in military service, "the largest canine force in the world." Where there is a U.S. troop surge to Afghanistan, so too is there a dog surge. As Nick Guidas, the manager of the K-9 unit in Afghanistan, told AP earlier this week, he expects to have as many as 219 dogs by July.

[Guidas] said each dog can work for five or six years, but the demands of the terrain and of the mission are harsh, particularly on the dogs’ joints. If a dog is injured or sick, it is not sent out on operations.

Only two military dogs have been lost in southern Afghanistan in the past five years, Guidas said.

"We take very good care of these dogs," he said. "In some cases they are treated better than us."

The United States began using canines in its war efforts during WWI (though the official contingent wasn’t inducted into the Army until 1942). The history of wardogs is as long as it is rich, plush with uplifting accounts of remarkable feats on the front lines of battle – dogs running fearless into spraying bullets, pulling injured men to safety — stories we’ll delve into in future posts.

We invite Best Defense readers with photographs and tales of wardogs to please send them our way.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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