As his U.S. counterparts walked toward him, the commander of the Iraqi canine unit broke into a smile and held out his hand.

After a few introductory handshakes, 2nd Lt. Akeel, from the Iraqi National Police in the city of Najaf, ushered his guests from 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, into his office.

"We have food for you," Akeel said. "While we wait, we can discuss business. You are safe here. Relax and enjoy yourselves."

Not wanting to turn down the commander's hospitality, the three U.S. Soldiers, led by 1st Lt. Will Whitfield, a platoon leader in Company C, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, sat down and removed their helmets.

They began to ask Akeel about his security plan for the upcoming elections.

With the only Iraqi canine unit in the province, Akeel's team would play an important part in keeping voters safe from insurgent bombs.

As plates full of bread, lamb and vegetables came in, the Soldiers groaned with grins on their faces.

"It's too much," said Staff Sgt. Danielle Talton, a military police officer assigned to the 543rd Military Police Battalion. "You don't need to do all this for us."

Undeterred, Akeel insisted they eat and relax.

Finally, as the group enjoyed the hospitality of their host, they begin to talk about business.
Talton and Whitfield asked specific questions about how the dogs would be used, but indicated that Akeel's plan appeared solid.

"We have more dogs coming for the elections," said Akeel. "We will be focusing on several areas, but we can cover all the polling sites now."

Whitfield asked Akeel what his platoon could do to assist.

"Election day will be a very busy day for us," Akeel responded. "We would like to do more training with you so we can be better prepared."

Akeel explained that he was happy with how his dogs are operating. They found several rockets in Najaf's old city and a potential suicide bomber a few days after. Still, he is certain that more training from his U.S. friends is never a bad thing.

"My wish is for my men to be more like the American Soldiers," he said. "I like working with you and learning how you do things."

Whitfield took the compliment with a smile and assured Akeel that setting up a training session would be no problem.

"We will help out any way we can," he said.

Getting the search dog unit was not an easy task, Akeel said. He has only had it for about two years, but he is confident he can build on it and hopes to eventually have 25 dogs.

"I would like to be the canine manager for all of Iraq," he said. "They showed us how to use dogs in 2008 and I knew it was something the police could use. I'm glad to have the chance to use it. I had to fight very hard to get this unit."

After lunch, Akeel took his guests out to the training yard to show them a demonstration involving two of his best dogs.

The two dogs found every explosive that was hidden in the yard. Concealed in boxes, in tall grass and inside the frames of motorcycles, the disguised explosives were no match for the dog's acute sense of smell.

"They are good aren't they'" said Akeel.

Whitfield smiled at his counterpart's pride in his animals.

"Yeah, they did really good," he said. "You should be proud."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16