Monday, November 02, 2009
and let slip the dogs of war
- Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
Despite Shakespeare's famous line, we don't hear much about the dogs of war - those stalwart, four footed warriors who sniff out explosives, stand guard, and - when their battle buddies need them - do double duty as healers. But what happens when a Marine war dog is wounded? You probably didn't know that there's a Walter Reed for canines. It's run by... the Air Force:
A new $15 million veterinary hospital for four-legged military personnel opened Tuesday at Lackland Air Force Base, offering a long overdue facility that gives advanced medical treatment for combat-wounded dogs.
Like soldiers and Marines in combat, military dogs suffer from war wounds and routine health issues that need to be treated to ensure they can continue working.
Dogs injured in Iraq or Afghanistan get emergency medical treatment on the battlefield and are flown to Germany for care. If necessary, they’ll fly on to San Antonio for more advanced treatment — much like wounded human personnel.
Wounded war dogs undergo the same treatments as wounded warriors. That's not surprising in a way - they are warriors themselves. Ringo (shown below) was deployed to Afghanistan:
The IDD or Improvised Detection Dogs program is a group of highly trained bomb-sniffing dogs used by the U.S. Marine Corps to detect IEDs and help prevent bomb attacks.
Dogs can sniff out explosives much more effectively than electronic sensors, and can clear dangerous areas much more quickly. They also have more agility and mobility to handle the tough terrain and situations required in combat. IDDs also have the ability to pinpoint the precise location of an IED or other explosive device through their superior sniffing capabilities.
According to Matt Hilburn, author of A Marine’s Best Friend, IDD’s are generally Labrador Retrievers and go through 15 weeks of training. And while they’re not as highly trained as other military working dogs, they are exceptional at what they do.
If Marines are affectionately called "jarheads", are Marine war dogs called... "boneheads"? Actually, some of them are called Freedom Dogs:
Freedom Dogs, a San Diego-based nonprofit ...trains service dogs to help Marines coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq to overcome persisting medical and physical limitations.
The program offers a unique way in which more and more service dogs are now being utilized.
Sgt. Ian Welch is one of the first Marines to work with a Freedom Dog. Following his tours of duty in Iraq, the 25- year-old is still reeling from a traumatic brain injury, as well as severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
Welch was injured during his tour of in Iraq in 2003; he was later re-deployed with his unit, the 3rd Battalion 4th Marines Kilo Company, again in 2004, and then, one more time, in 2005.
He survived the wartime ordeals, but witnessed many of his friends die beside him. Despite his recurrent service, Welch does not consider himself a hero.
"Heroes," he said, "don't come home."
I beg to differ. Whether they walk on four, two, or no legs, heroes are all around us. And we owe them a great deal.
Why not say, "thank you"?
I recently saw an article put out by DOD about the Military Working Dog programs down in San Antonio. The dogs that either wash out or are not longer fit to work are sometimes made available for adoption. When the time comes, I think I might look into that.