Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Rebecca’s war dog of the week: Black the protector, on his 4th combat tour at age 9

By Rebecca Frankel Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent There’s a reason why you can’t sneak up on SPC Jeffrey Michaud — and that reason is Black, a trained explosives detection dog. Michaud and Black are stationed at FOB Warhorse in Baqubah, Iraq, where the pair has been serving since February. Black, a nine-year-old black and ...

Courtesy of Jeffrey Michaud
Courtesy of Jeffrey Michaud

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

There’s a reason why you can’t sneak up on SPC Jeffrey Michaud — and that reason is Black, a trained explosives detection dog. Michaud and Black are stationed at FOB Warhorse in Baqubah, Iraq, where the pair has been serving since February.

Black, a nine-year-old black and tan German shepherd, is currently on his fourth deployment. This is his second tour in Iraq and he’s already done two stints in Afghanistan. But nine is not too old for a patrol dog. “It’s up there, but the dog will work ’til he can’t work anymore,” Michaud, who’s been a handler for two years, told me on the phone from Iraq last week. “Other dogs are 13 years old and still going strong.”

Black happens to be very good at his job. While out on patrol in the open desert recently Black gave Michaud the signal that he’d “caught wind of something.” That something turned out to be “several mortars, and some detonating cord buried about a foot and a half underground, all sealed in a plastic Tupperware container,” which was later safely detonated.

There’s no question that the work this war dog and handler are doing is dangerous and out in the field Black gets the same consideration as any other soldier. “If my dog is wounded, I can call in for a helicopter or other means to get him to the nearest veterinary clinic.” Though Michaud has never had a dog injured on mission before, he’s prepared. “I always know where the closest vet is. If a snake bites my dog, I need to immediately know where the vet is. And I’ve seen three snakes so far. I’m not sure what they were, but they were big and they didn’t look nice.”

But it Black, who is also a trained attack dog, can take care of himself-and others. He is extremely protective of Michaud. “He has a six-foot circle around me with his leash and he does not allow anyone to get in that bubble. Unexpectedly, I should say.” He’s not, Michaud acknowledges, an approachable dog.

A few weeks ago C.J. Chivers of the NY Times had a piece about medevacs in which he mentioned two Marines who had been “bitten by their unit’s bomb-sniffing dog.” I asked Michaud about it, but he said he’d never heard anything like that happening. “But,” he said “the dogs are not pets, they are trained to attack with or without command for anything aggressive. So it’s my responsibility to be very cautious with my dog, to keep people away …. I keep the dog muzzled and I keep him close to me.”

Michaud is clearly fond of his partner — their bond a close one. As Michaud puts it, “There’s one dog and one dog handler, so it’s just me and my dog.” The two are rarely seperated; they patrol, eat, and sleep together. “He likes to snuggle,” Michaud tells me. “Black is very nice to me and he loves the people he knows.”

Michaud predicts that he and Black have about another year together before one of them gets reassigned: 

It is hard to give your dog to someone else and pick up another dog. You see the other person with your old dog … you do get attached to your dog. It’s hard to let ‘em go but it’s what we have to do.”

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

There’s a reason why you can’t sneak up on SPC Jeffrey Michaud — and that reason is Black, a trained explosives detection dog. Michaud and Black are stationed at FOB Warhorse in Baqubah, Iraq, where the pair has been serving since February.

Black, a nine-year-old black and tan German shepherd, is currently on his fourth deployment. This is his second tour in Iraq and he’s already done two stints in Afghanistan. But nine is not too old for a patrol dog. “It’s up there, but the dog will work ’til he can’t work anymore,” Michaud, who’s been a handler for two years, told me on the phone from Iraq last week. “Other dogs are 13 years old and still going strong.”

Black happens to be very good at his job. While out on patrol in the open desert recently Black gave Michaud the signal that he’d “caught wind of something.” That something turned out to be “several mortars, and some detonating cord buried about a foot and a half underground, all sealed in a plastic Tupperware container,” which was later safely detonated.

There’s no question that the work this war dog and handler are doing is dangerous and out in the field Black gets the same consideration as any other soldier. “If my dog is wounded, I can call in for a helicopter or other means to get him to the nearest veterinary clinic.” Though Michaud has never had a dog injured on mission before, he’s prepared. “I always know where the closest vet is. If a snake bites my dog, I need to immediately know where the vet is. And I’ve seen three snakes so far. I’m not sure what they were, but they were big and they didn’t look nice.”

But it Black, who is also a trained attack dog, can take care of himself-and others. He is extremely protective of Michaud. “He has a six-foot circle around me with his leash and he does not allow anyone to get in that bubble. Unexpectedly, I should say.” He’s not, Michaud acknowledges, an approachable dog.

A few weeks ago C.J. Chivers of the NY Times had a piece about medevacs in which he mentioned two Marines who had been “bitten by their unit’s bomb-sniffing dog.” I asked Michaud about it, but he said he’d never heard anything like that happening. “But,” he said “the dogs are not pets, they are trained to attack with or without command for anything aggressive. So it’s my responsibility to be very cautious with my dog, to keep people away …. I keep the dog muzzled and I keep him close to me.”

Michaud is clearly fond of his partner — their bond a close one. As Michaud puts it, “There’s one dog and one dog handler, so it’s just me and my dog.” The two are rarely seperated; they patrol, eat, and sleep together. “He likes to snuggle,” Michaud tells me. “Black is very nice to me and he loves the people he knows.”

Michaud predicts that he and Black have about another year together before one of them gets reassigned: 

It is hard to give your dog to someone else and pick up another dog. You see the other person with your old dog … you do get attached to your dog. It’s hard to let ‘em go but it’s what we have to do.”

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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