A compelling look at the important role that dogs have played in America's most recent military conflicts, replete with the touching stories of individual dogs and their handlers/soldiers
Under the cover of night, deep in the desert of Afghanistan, a US Army handler led a Special Forces patrol with his military working dog. Without warning an insurgent popped up, his weapon raised. At the handler's command, the dog charged their attacker. There was the flash of steel, the blur of fur, and the sound of a single shot; the handler watched his dog take a bullet. During the weeks it would take the dog to heal, the handler never left its side. The dog had saved his life.
Loyal and courageous, dogs are truly man's best friend on the battlefield. While the soldiers may not always feel comfortable calling the bond they form love, the emotions involved are strong and complicated. In War Dogs, Rebecca Frankel offers a riveting mix of on-the-ground reporting, her own hands-on experiences in the military working dog world, and a look at the science of dogs' special abilitiesfrom their amazing noses and powerful jaws to their enormous sensitivity to the emotions of their human companions.
The history of dogs in the US military is long and rich, from the spirit-lifting mascots of the Civil War to the dogs still leading patrols hunting for IEDs today. Frankel not only interviewed handlers who deployed with dogs in wars from Vietnam to Iraq, but top military commanders, K-9 program managers, combat-trained therapists who brought dogs into war zones as part of a preemptive measure to stave off PTSD, and veterinary technicians stationed in Bagram. She makes a passionate case for maintaining a robust war-dog force. In a post-9/11 world rife with terrorist threats, nothing is more effective than a bomb-sniffing dog and his handler.
With a compelling cast of humans and animals, this moving book is a must read for all dog loversmilitary and otherwise.
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Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love
By Rebecca Frankel
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Rebecca Frankel
All rights reserved.
In the Line of Fire
I actually got jealous when I saw some of the soldiers over there with dogs deeply attached to them. It was the nearest thing to civilization in this weird foreign life of ours.
—Ernie Pyle, Brave Men
As the plane descended, it almost felt like it was falling, but the turns were tight, controlled. The C-17 twisted down, down, down without slowing. The 12 dogs in their crates felt the strange sensation. A few cowered in their kennels, legs splayed, eyes darting and nervous. Some of their handlers gripped their seats. Others closed their eyes, no doubt fighting nausea. The corkscrew landing pattern was a combat zone necessity. So was the short approach to the flight line. The plane, which had left San Diego, California, 20 hours earlier, landed on the Iraq airstrip. It came down so hard and so fast that, as it met the ground, the g-force slapped against the bodies of everyone inside.
When the men stepped off the plane and into the Iraq air, there was nothing but darkness. There was no way to tell where they were. The three Special Forces (SF) guys who had also been on the flight had already melted away into the night.
It was March 2004. Only a couple of days before, Staff Sergeant Sean Lulofs and 11 other Air Force handlers had been at Camp Pendleton in California filling out the necessary paperwork at the Marine Corps base before they could begin their deployment. A lieutenant colonel gave them their first briefing for their mission, Operation Phantom Fury. She did not mince words. "The Marine Corps," she told them, "anticipates that at least two to three of you will be killed in action."
The handlers and their dogs would embed deep within the Marines' infantry units, and it was crucial that the men understood the risks. It would be so dangerous, in fact, that an objective assessment of the mission conducted by the Marine Corps concluded that this group of handlers was expected to come back at a loss.
From the time he was five years old, Lulofs knew he wanted to become a dog handler. His mother had taken him to a police demonstration where they watched an officer place a bag of cocaine in a woman's purse. Then a dog was brought in. Within minutes, the dog found the cocaine. Lulofs knew he'd discovered his life's work.
Staff Sergeant Lulofs had been given less than eight hours' notice that he and his dog Aaslan would be deploying to Iraq. Truth be told, it was the last place in the world he wanted to be. The news of four American contractors who'd been killed there earlier that month had dominated the headlines. The images of a mob pulling charred corpses through the streets then dangling them from a bridge over the Euphrates River were fresh in Lulofs's mind. From the outside, the Iraqis appeared to be full of rage, and they were directing it at Americans.
Now Lulofs and the other handlers stood on the tarmac, in the dark, with no idea where they were. There was a mandatory military blackout, so they couldn't use lights. They hadn't packed night vision goggles (NVGs), because they hadn't known they were going to need them. Lulofs wondered what else they might need that they didn't have. After a few minutes, the men began to load their weapons. Then they heard a deep voice from nearby ask, "Are you the Air Force guys?" Lulofs felt a twinge of relief. He knew this voice. It was Gunnery Sergeant William Kartune, a rugged, no-nonsense Marine in charge of all the dog teams in Iraq, from Baghdad to Al Anbar. He had come to collect the handlers.
After that night, the handlers were split into smaller groups. Lulofs was paired with Joshua Farnsworth, a staff sergeant who seemed to have a big chip on his shoulder. Together they took their dogs to Camp Baharia, located just two miles southeast of the city of Fallujah. Fallujah had become the epicenter of violence. Nobody wanted Fallujah.
The base was so close to the city that Lulofs could see cars on Fallujah's main highway. Before it became Camp Baharia in 2003, the area had been a Ba'ath Party retreat known as Dreamland. Palm trees had surrounded a man-made lake, where the sons of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had watched boats race back and forth across the water.
In the last few months, the area had been torn up by fighting. Many of the buildings had been gutted, including the handlers' living quarters. The glass in the windows had been blown out. Lulofs and another handler found plywood and sandbags and rebuilt walls where needed. They even managed to construct a couple of bunk beds. It was palatial compared to the floor of a Humvee, where some of the other handlers were sleeping.
The first morning, Lulofs woke early, just as the sun was rising. He took Aaslan outside and unclipped his leash to give him free range of the dirt and rock that made up the bank of the lake. Lulofs smiled as he watched the dog sniff around. Aaslan, a trim Belgian Malinois with shadowy dark coloring around his narrow face, had a civil temperament. He never growled at people, never barked at other dogs, and would bite only when asked to, only when he knew it was okay. He was a tough dog, and during bite-work training, Aaslan had hit decoys hard. He once even broke his own legs during a drill. That kind of fight was in his blood. His mother, Boyca, had been legendary for her hardiness. During one training session, she had pounced with such force on a human decoy that even though the man had been wearing a fully padded bite suit, she'd cracked three of his ribs.
Lulofs watched Aaslan skirt the bank, looking for the right spot to do his business. No sooner had Aaslan raised his leg when Lulofs saw the dog wrinkle his nose and cock his head to the side. Aaslan paused, leg in the air, and stopped urinating midstream. Lulofs's blood went cold. Aaslan was "on bomb." But how could that be possible? Lulofs wondered. They were inside the base.
As Lulofs watched, Aaslan began to search, nose to the ground, twisting and sniffing. Lulofs told himself the dog had to be picking up on some kind of residual odor, something left over from unexploded ordnance. He stared in disbelief as Aaslan nuzzled around a coffee can and planted his hindquarters on the ground. "That's not good," Lulofs said to himself. He called Aaslan back to him and away from whatever was in that coffee can.
The Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team came to investigate. The can looked like a harmless piece of trash. But it was filled with rocks, disarranged wires, and rocket propellant. According to the EOD guys, it had gotten waterlogged after sitting idle for a long time. This made it even more volatile.
The night before, while Lulofs and Farnsworth were making introductions with the Marines on base, they'd hung out in this yard by the water, talking, smoking, shooting the breeze. One of the Marines had a fishing rod, and the guys were casting it out onto the bank to see if they could hook up stray bits of garbage. The thing was, they'd been messing around with this very same coffee can. Lulofs had even taken a picture of one Marine holding it up, a lit cigarette dangling from his lip. They'd had no idea they had been playing with an IED.
The next day, the base was hit with roughly 18 rounds of indirect fire. Lulofs and Aaslan had been in Iraq a grand total of two days, and they were already in the thick of the war, as close to it as they could possibly be.
Just 12 months earlier, bombs had rained down on Baghdad. In March 2003, President George W. Bush had stood before the nation and announced that, on his order, coalition forces were going into Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein and save the world from grave danger. "Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly — yet, our purpose is sure," President Bush informed the world. "The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities."
By late 2003, insurgents' use of IEDs to inflict terror had increased tremendously. Forty to 60 percent of all attacks started with an IED. And these were attacks to which US and coalition forces were extremely vulnerable. How to deal with the IED problem quickly became a top priority. A number of solutions were investigated, and different ideas were teased out and tested. In early 2004, General James Mattis issued an order down the chain of command inside the Marine Corps to investigate whether dogs might be brought in to help with the growing threat.
Was it possible for dogs to become a permanent part of a Marine battalion? Could dogs be attached to a unit? Could they be paired easily with infantrymen? The idea evolved and morphed and eventually the task, and its funding, came under the jurisdiction of the Marine Corps MWD program. The Marine Corps determined that roughly 30 dogs and handlers were needed. They combed their own units, as well as other branches of the military, for the best dog teams available.
It would be almost a full year after the 2003 invasion before the Marines sent dogs to Iraq. Then they deployed six dog teams from their own service along with others from the Air Force. These were the first dog teams flown into a combat area since the Vietnam War. No US dogs had been used in a war as an on-the-ground force in over three decades.
In fact, these dogs and their handlers were law enforcement teams. They had been trained for patrol work. They knew how to search cars, detain suspects, and find drugs and maybe bomb materials. They had not been trained for war. And they were categorically unprepared for what awaited them in Iraq.
They hadn't been trained to conduct roadway searches or to hunt for IEDs. The dogs hadn't been conditioned to search for buried explosives for the simple reason that this specific hazard did not exist stateside, nor had it been a factor in prior conflicts. The first dog handlers in Iraq were basically starting from scratch. They had to make it up as they went along.
When Marine handler Corporal Mark Vierig arrived in Iraq in 2004 with his dog, Duc, he knew next to nothing about what was waiting for them. Born and raised in Utah, Vierig had, at the age of 17, made for Texas with a friend to ride bulls professionally. At 25 years old, after breaking his leg twice as well as an arm and shattering an ankle, he promised himself he wasn't going to end up a beat-up, broken-down cowboy. Instead, he enlisted in the Marines. In some ways it wasn't much of a leap. The daredevil drive that pulsed behind the thrill he got from working the rodeo was the thing that drove him to volunteer for a combat tour. A combat mind-set came to him naturally, and even though no one in-country seemed to know what to do with Vierig or his dog, he put himself to work.
In between missions, Vierig trained Duc on whatever they could find, hiding old mortars and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) so the dog could learn the scent. At first Vierig had to ask for missions in order to prove that he and Duc could be useful. He would approach company commanders and battalion commanders and say, "My dog finds bombs. Put us out in front."
After a short time, the SF teams started to request Vierig and Duc. In fact, they all wanted Duc out with them on their missions. Sometime in the spring, after he and Duc had been in-country for a few months, Vierig overheard one of the other Marines say that it'd be more demoralizing for them if Duc were to be killed than if they lost another Marine. He didn't really know until he heard that remark just how much the other guys were depending on the skill of his dog.
Their reputation spread further, beyond their fellow Marines and beyond their base. Whenever he worked with the Iraqi border police, Vierig showed them just how well his dog could find explosives. "Go ahead," he'd say to them. "Hide it. Anywhere you want. My dog will find it." The Iraqi police officers would take a nonexplosive piece of material and tuck it away somewhere. Minutes later Duc would find it. Soon enough, while they were on patrol in the streets, Iraqi civilians would point at the dog and say to Vierig, "Duc?" They knew the dog's name.
Vierig and Duc were stationed in Husaybah, an Iraqi border town known for its lawlessness. The city of about 30,000 people was so treacherous that even Saddam Hussein hadn't been able to keep control over it. It was a dangerous, violent, and volatile place located right on the Syrian border and along the western side of the Euphrates River. The Marines there were constantly engaged in firefights with the insurgents (people in revolt against established authority). They practically had the routine down pat. After an exchange of gunfire, the Marines would give chase down the streets, running past shops and houses. Then the insurgents would rush into a mosque, knowing the Marines would not follow them inside. It was a religious place, a sacred space, and, therefore, off limits. So, the Marines had no choice but to wait. Sometimes the insurgents would emerge and the fighting would begin again. Other times they'd stay inside and the Marines would disengage, knowing that the firefight would pick up again another day.
The insurgents would leave threatening notes for the Marines on the doors of the mosque. One day a note, partly in Arabic and partly in English, caught Vierig's eye. It had the standard threats promising to decapitate Americans and cook their brains. But then he saw the word "Duck." It was spelled like the waterfowl, but the bounty it promised was for a hit on his dog. Next to it was a number: 10,000. Whether it was the guarantee of dollars or some other currency, Vierig wasn't sure, but he knew the enemy was gunning for his dog. And that was when he really realized the impact he and Duc were making.
When he first arrived in Iraq, Lulofs was a fairly religious man. Being someone who also put a lot of stock in quiet humility, at first he just couldn't contend with Farnsworth's foul mouth and lewd jokes. They were the only two canine handlers stationed at Camp Baharia, and while the men didn't butt heads exactly, they spent their first weeks together in an uncomfortable quiet. But eventually a grudging respect grew between them. Lulofs could see that behind all the boasting, Farnsworth was a competent handler. Lulofs liked the way the guy worked his dog, Eesau. And sharing such close living quarters, he would sometimes overhear Farnsworth speaking to his wife back home. Somewhere along the way the distance between the men closed, and soon the handlers and their dogs became a tight-knit unit of four.
From day to day, their job was mostly running traffic control points in different locations along the main routes in and out of Fallujah. Lulofs and Farnsworth eventually got their own Humvee from two Marine handlers so they could travel with their dogs. It was a Frankenstein hybrid, a blend of ill-fitting pieces, part pickup truck, part jeep, part tractor. After a couple of months, it took on the look of a hardened scab. It was dinged, dented, scorched, and bruised.
When Lulofs and Farnsworth started taking the vehicle on missions, making the trip between Camp Baharia and Fallujah, the Humvee didn't have any armor, nothing, not even a bulletproof windshield. They were given a couple of Kevlar blankets, which couldn't have stopped a bullet or warded off shrapnel. Still, it was all they had, so they draped the blankets along the carriage in the back where they kept the dog kennels. Bit by bit they clamped on additions to their Humvee, stitching together mismatched patches of metal and canvas. They added L-shaped armored doors for the driver and passenger side and a homemade air-conditioning unit they jerry-rigged to a generator and lobbed onto the roof. It was an eyesore of a combat vehicle, one that stood out in any convoy, and it became a prime and sought-after target.
It didn't take long before there was a bounty on the four of them. Shortly after the first handler-dog teams arrived in 2004, the going rate for taking them out was $10,000. Lulofs was determined to mess up the enemy so much that by the time they left Iraq, the bounty would be at least $25,000.
Early one day in August, they were riding in a convoy on their way to set up a traffic control point. There were very few cars on Main Supply Route Mobile that morning. Lulofs felt that something was off as soon as they rolled out onto the paved thoroughfare. It was too quiet. The six-lane highway usually had more traffic this time of day. They guessed that word of some impending threat had spread among the people living in the city, causing civilians to avoid their normal route and use the makeshift dirt road that ran alongside Main Supply Route Mobile instead.
After some back-and-forth on their radios, Lulofs, Farnsworth, and the Marines in their convoy determined that they were most likely looking at a single IED attack. So they slowed down their normal speed of 45 miles per hour to about 25 and took it nice and easy. Lulofs drove, keeping his eyes locked on the road, looking for a suspicious bump, a rock pile, anything that could be a bomb.
Excerpted from War Dogs by Rebecca Frankel. Copyright © 2016 Rebecca Frankel. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Thomas E. Ricks ix
Author's Note xiii
Introduction: Dogs in the Time of War 1
1 When Dogs Become Soldiers 11
2 The House of Misfit Dogs 31
3 The Trouble with Loving a War Dog 53
4 Beware the Loving (War) Dog 73
5 A Dog of Many Talents 93
6 The Road to War Leads Through Yuma 127
7 The Fallen 165
8 Wounds and Healing 183
9 The Never Again Wars 205
10 Home Again, Home Again 213
Epilogue: What We Talk about When We Talk about War Dogs 227