This weekend gave me a new perspective on the term “weekend warrior.” I was lucky enough to be invited to a weekend full of military working dog team events on the grounds of the March Field Air Museum in Riverside, Calif. It was put together by Feed the Dawgs, an energetic group of mostly Vietnam-era military dog handlers who want to treat active-duty dog handlers with the respect and appreciation they did not generally receive.
The “Dawgs” go to 18 military kennels in the Southwest to provide recognition (and steak feasts) to active-duty handlers. Last year some volunteers drove up to 3,700 total miles for these sojourns, on their own dime. The group gets some financial contributions, but there’s a lot of digging deep into their own pockets to keep making this support happen.
(They could use some financial help, since they’re not a nonprofit. “We’re totally and thoroughly unprofitable,” says former handler J.M. Hemp, who heads most of the events. I know how much it must cost to put on these events. I was in charge of prepping many dozens of steaks this weekend, and each bag had a pricetag of about $90. If you want to help out, click on the Contact page to e-mail Hemp. He says he’d sure appreciate anything you can do.)
This weekend’s events attracted handlers from all services. About 150 dined on a big steak BBQ, and several took part in an exciting Iron Dog Competition, which featured a realistic obstacle course, a “bad guy” scenario, scent detection, and a very grueling run where handlers had to carry their dogs on their backs. It ended with a crawl through a mud tunnel. I’ve seen these dogs do a great deal during the research for my forthcoming book, Soldier Dogs, but I was wowed by the teams’ abilities on this very challenging competition.
Here are a few of my favorite photos from the competition, and some bonus puppy photos. If you want to see more, you can go to the event album at my Soldier Dogs Facebook page. Enjoy!