The History of Dogs in WarPublished December 15, 2008
Dogs have distinguished military records, which all began with a homeless Bull Terrier named Stubby. During World War I soldiers from Connecticut's 102nd infantry regiment befriended Stubby as their mascot and took him to Europe. After 17 battles, Stubby served so nobly that General John Pershing, the American Commander in Europe, personally decorated him for valor. After the war Stubby met three presidents and he was known as the unofficial grandfather of war dogs. Records show that dogs have helped fight wars with ancient armies since 3000 B.C. Medieval military dogs wore armor embedded with blades and spikes -- effective weapons against cavalry horses. Ben Franklin wanted dogs in America's colonial militia; however, dogs had no official role until World War I. How does the military use dogs? Today dogs -- recognized for their high intelligence, strength and ability to adapt to any climate -- have ever expanding military roles. They are sentries, trackers, scouts and detectors. Dogs even work in airborne rescue teams. This past December the Army deployed two therapy dogs to Iraq; their mission was to help U.S. soldiers overcome combat stress. Dogs are highly valued for their keen sense of smell. For example, some dogs serving in Iraq are trained to detect 17 different types of explosives. They can smell wires and AK47s and even detect enemy soldiers from 1,000 yards away. These skills make sentry dogs' prized targets for enemy snipers. During World War II dogs delivered messages behind enemy lines, carried food and medicine, and even helped lay telephone lines. The first U.S. military dog training program began in 1942; eventually there were 15 platoons of working dogs. What kinds of dogs serve with the soldiers? German Shepherds are highly prized and make up the majority of military dogs. Other popular breeds include Belgian Sheepdogs, Labrador Retrievers and Doberman Pinschers. In Vietnam, where at least 4,900 dogs were deployed, authorities estimate that canine soldiers saved at least 10,000 men from booby traps, landmines and enemy tunnels. Even though the dogs cannot write books about their heroism, their handlers and fellow soldiers are sharing stories about their canine comrades. The United States War Dogs Association and National War Dogs Memorial Inc. are two organizations that promote the contributions of military dogs. These current and former K-9 dog handlers want a commemorative K-9 dog stamp and a national military dog memorial in Washington, D.C. In 2006 the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation dedicated a dog and handler statue. Ron Aiello of Burlington, N.J., is president of the U.S. War Dogs Association and was one of the first K-9 teams in Vietnam. He recalls, "we never left the dog. We slept together, ate together, we even went to bathroom together. We were a team and never separated." Remembering those experiences, Aiello has been sending care packages to U.S. soldiers and their dogs in Afghanistan and Iraq for the past six years. His K-9 team packages include items for dogs such as K-9 cooling vests, K-9 cooling bandanas and even K-9 sun blocks, along with items for the soldiers. If you want to help these canine soldiers go to the website: uswardogs.org.