Special Photo Essay: Dogs of War
People have always had a soft spot for military dogs. They're incomparable troops -- brave, loyal, and superbly well suited for their tasks. But there's something else that draws us: These dogs have the ability to humanize war. We identify with them. They're not simply heroes overseas, they're our pals. We share our homes and lives with their distant cousins, whose fierce loyalty and unconditional love defines them, and sometimes helps define us.
When we hear about a four-legged warrior, we want to know more, to disappear into a world that may not have seemed so accessible to us without the dog in it. The takedown of Osama bin Laden earlier this month was and is a huge story. But when we learned that the elite team of Navy Seals that put an end to the most hunted man in the world was made up of 79 commandos and one very special dog, we wanted to find out everything: Who was this heroic dog, what did he do, and while we're at it, what kind of tactics did the Seals use, who are the Seals anyway, how did this all unfold, and just where is Abbottabad, or at least Pakistan?
The dog, now reported to be a Belgian Malinois named Cairo, effectively broke down barriers between "them" and "us." We still hunger to learn more. Because of him, military dogs are the subject of stories all over the globe. You'd be hard-pressed to find a news entity that hasn't embarked on a story about dogs in the military in the last couple of weeks. Among the most riveting were a couple of slide shows that appeared on ForeignPolicy.com. We bring you a few of the photos here. Be sure to visit the site to see more and learn the stories behind them.
In the photo above, military dog Rico wears special "doggles" as he trains with Staff Sgt. Philip Mendoza aboard a helicopter at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
A dog and his soldier leap off the ramp of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during water training over the Gulf of Mexico on March 1.
We ran this photo earlier this month when word broke that a Navy Seal dog was involved with the Bin Laden operation. Now we know a little more about it. The photo shows U.S. Navy Seal Mike Forsythe, and his dog, Cara, as they recently broke the world record for "highest man/dog parachute deployment." They jumped from 30,100 feet. The equipment used for military dogs in these operations is very sophisticated. A Canadian company called K9 Storm supplies military and police dogs with an impressive array of high-tech gear.
When these athletic, super-focused dogs wear full gear, they're even more formidable. The dog in the photo above appears to be wearing the K9 Storm Intruder, a lightweight, waterproof integrated camera vest. The camera has built-in night vision, and besides being ideal for amphibious operations, is also designed for tunnel, cave, and SWAT operations.
Not every military dog is a Malinois or German shepherd. Canine troops include many different breeds. Labrador retrievers are favorites at home and on the field (and in the air, and on the sea...).
At the end of the day, it's all about bonding and trust. Military dogs and their handlers develop deep bonds that sometimes even transcend death. Earlier this year we wrote about British Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, who died in a firefight with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Shortly after, his devoted 22-month-old bomb-sniffing dog, Theo, who was with him when he died, suffered a seizure and also died. The two had formed an incredibly strong bond during their time together, starting during their 15 weeks of training, and continuing in Afghanistan, where in five months, they recovered 14 home-made bombs and huge numbers of other weapons -- possibly a record for a dog and his handler in the conflict. Many speculate that when Tasker died, his dog died of a broken heart.
In the photo above, Staff Sgt. Erick Martinez holds his dog, Argo II, in an over-the-shoulder carry at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in early March. The exercise helps build loyalty and trust -- something dogs of every stripe and spot, military or not, have at their very core.
Dogster readers, what would you want to know about military dogs if you had a chance to ask a trainer, a soldier, a breeder, or anyone whose lives have intersected with these very special dogs?