Dog Soldiers
Sgt. Ricky, a military working dog, attacks Staff Sgt. Kenneth Hennig, a native of Houston and a specialized search dog handler for the 40th Military Police Detachment out of Fort Sill, Okla., during bite work training in Basra. The canine and his handler, Spc. David Steele, a native of Upper Marlboro, Md., and with the 34th Military Police Detachment from Fort Knox, Ky., have been deployed as a team since Nov. 2009. Hennig and Steele are attached to the 1st Infantry Division, United States Division-South.

BASRA, Iraq - Despite all of the high-tech hardware today's Army possesses, sometimes a Soldier's best tool is still 'man's best friend.'

Employed for a number of tasks such as tracking, scouting, and narcotics and explosives detection, canine Soldiers, like Sgt. Ricky, a five-year-old German Shepherd in Basra, provide combat support and protection for installations and personnel.

Sgt. Ricky is a trained patrol explosive dog and seasoned veteran on his second deployment to Iraq.

"At an early age, Ricky has approximately 275 missions combined," said Spc. David Steele, a native of Upper Marlboro, Md., and a patrol explosive detector dog handler for the 34th Military Police Detachment from Fort Knox, Ky., attached to 1st Infantry Division, United States Division-South.

The use of dogs for menial work in the United States Military began in the 18th century. Today, their training has developed into specialized skills and has become more combat mission essential.

"One of the biggest missions on this tour was the elections," Steele said. "In the span of two days, we provided security services to approximately 30 polling sites. That's a long day for a dog."

"Ricky has done a lot of demonstrations for celebrities and dignitaries who visit Iraq," said Sgt. 1st Class Lee Davie, a native of Marion, Ohio, and the USD-S military working dog program manager. "He also does area clearances for general officers and distinguished visitors."

While the dog's senses such as hearing, smell and sight may be ten times greater than that of humans, canines also provide a good visual deterrent, Steele said.

"When we respond to a crowd scene and they see Ricky's size," Steele said, "they back off. He provides a psychological deterrent."

Steele said the handler must stay focused because the dogs mirror their handler's mental state.

"We like to say 'it runs down the leash'. If I was having a bad day, he senses it," Steele said.

"A couple of weeks ago I found out my house dog passed away. I was upset ... That night, Ricky laid in bed with me. He would not leave my side," Steele said.

These canines begin their military service as pups. They go through basic and advanced training, and continue throughout their entire service life with proficiency training until retirement. Each qualified dog must be available for duty worldwide just like Soldiers.

Steele said he would like people back home to think more about the dogs as Soldiers.

"I know people back home focus on us Soldiers on their fourth or fifth deployment," Steele said. "Ricky's on his second tour and only five years-old. He will probably have one or two more. He might see Afghanistan."

"We Soldiers obviously go through a lot. The dogs go through a lot, too," Steele said.

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