I was quite dismayed when I looked up Memorial Day in Wikipedia and they provided this definition, “…Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces…”
Sure, great, remember the heroic men and women who fought and died for our country, but what about the Military Working Dogs?
Today the United States has about 3,000 Military Working dogs serving alongside their two legged service member counterparts.
I recently asked one of my soldiers, US Army Sergeant John Nolan, how many times his Specialized Search Dog Honza saved his life in Afghanistan in 2010-2011.
His response was simple.
“I lost track after the seventh time Honza found an Improvised Explosive Device that would have killed me and half the Special Forces Alpha Team we were working with. He saved us over and over and I’m alive today only because of that dog.”
They shed the same blood as their two legged counterparts.
U.S. Army Specialist Marc Whittaker credits his 100 pound German Shepard, a spitting image of Rin Tin Tin, with taking the bullet that was meant for Marc. Military Working Dog Anax lost his leg protecting Marc, is retired and lives a lush life filled with love and treats in Marc’s home. But Marc knows he is alive today because of his working dog, Anax.
They die for our country.
Military Working Dog Bak was recently killed in Afghanistan by a rogue Afghan Policeman. The 3-year-old German Sheppard had found six improvised explosives and had already been wounded once during this combat tour.
They suffer from the horrors of war.
Take Marine Improvised Detector Dog Allie, a friendly black Labrador Retriever trained to find roadside bombs who was injured in a mortar blast in Marjah, Afghanistan. She was half-way through her third tour in part of the most treacherous terrain in Afghanistan.
“It traumatized her, so she’s having trouble with loud noises,” said Maj. Dawn Brown, a Marine Corps reservist with the 3rd Civil Affairs Group out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. A civilian veterinarian, Brown, works with livestock and large animals in Afghanistan while deployed.
“She startles and shuts down during a bomb blast or small arms fire,” Brown said, adding she believes Allie is suffering from combat-related stress.
When I oversaw the dog program in Afghanistan from 2010-2011, I lost count of the dogs we lost after fifteenth four legged hero was killed.
Military Working Dogs have been serving alongside our nation’s men and women since World War I. During the Great War those dogs were provided to U.S. forces by the British and French.
The first official military working dog program began in January, 1942, not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The American Kennel Association along with a new group calling itself “Dogs for Defense” mobilized dog owners across the country. These patriotic Americans donated dogs to the Army’s Quartermaster Corps.
According to the United States War Dog Association, 1,894 Military Working Dogs were shipped overseas during World War II, consisting of sentry, scout, mine detector, sled and pack and Messenger.
Since then Military Working dogs have been involved in almost every major conflict, side by side with their two legged counterparts. From the Pusan Perimeter, Korea to the Helmand Province, Afghanistan, these four legged heroes have saved thousands of lives.
It is hard to quantify the impact dogs have had on the battlefield, how many human lives these dogs have saved. These dogs find mass casualty producing improvised explosive device on the battlefield. One explosive find may have saved one life or the entire ten soldier patrol from being killed or maimed.
One thing is for sure, there are thousands of Americans’ celebrating Memorial Day with their families, who owe their life to a military working dog.
There are thousands of Americans currently serving in Afghanistan who will be celebrating Memorial Day next year with their families because of a military working dog.
So why aren’t these four- legged heroes officially recognized as service members you ask?
Why are they considered equipment?
Federal Law classifies these heroic animals as equipment and does not allow the military to officially recognize their service.
This was supposed to be righted last December with the Canine Member of the Armed Service Act, but a watered down version of the bill was passed into law.
According to Ron Aiello, President of the United States War Dog Association, “The Senate did not pass the full resolution. It was decided by the Senate that to get the bill passed they had to take out a portion of it. That portion that was omitted was the reclassification of the Military Working Dogs from Equipment to Canine Members of the Armed Forces.”
So our government has decided that these four legged heroes are pieces of equipment, but to the service members that serve alongside them, Military Working Dogs are service members.
Sure, one may say the dogs don’t care about recognition, just give them some extra milk bones, and a pat on the head. I will tell you that person has never had their life saved by one of these four legged service members, has never seen their sacrifices and don’t understand what they mean to our fighting men and women.
This recognition isn’t for our dogs, it’s for all our service members who have stood toe to toe with them during such critical points in our nation’s history as the Battle of the Bulge, the Tet Offensive or the raid to kill Osama Bin Laden.
“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation,” President George Washington.
So on this special day of remembrance, reflect on those brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, but don’t forget about the four legged furry service members.
Congress be damn, Military Working Dogs are service members.