FORT POLK, La. — Col. David Gardner, commander, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk Operations Group, will tell you it takes an entire team to make his unit such a renowned adversary in the JRTC “Box.”
From privates to senior officers, each Soldier plays a role in making the JRTC and Fort Polk the Army’s premiere training ground for Infantry Brigade Combat Teams and Security Force Assistance Brigades as they prepare to embark on deployments to hot spots around the globe.
Seldom are the Ops Gp Soldiers singled out for their exemplary deeds, preferring instead to remain in anonymity, allowing the entire unit to be recognized for its work.
But on occasion, one member moves to the front of the pack — or the herd, barking instructions and chasing away whatever gets in the way of the mission — whether man or beast.
Meet Jack the Dog, an honorary member of the Ops Gp Geronimo team and guardian of the Ops Gp Farm in the Box, an entity that provides animals for a touch of realism to units training in the mock villages that dot the JRTC landscape.
Jack, who has been made an honorary member of the Geronimos and now goes by the moniker Geronimo Jack, is an Anatolian Shepherd, a breed of dog that originated in Turkey and is named after the Anatolia Peninsula which forms a large portion of the nation’s territory. The dog is noted for being rugged, large and strong and having good sight and hearing, making it a natural for protecting livestock such as the goats, donkeys, geese and chickens that call the Ops Gp Farm home.
Geronimo Jack’s keeper, Dennis Ansetta, the Ops Gp farm manager, said the protective pooch became a member of the Ops Gp family in August 2012.
“We originally had a couple of Pyrenees to act as guard dogs for us,” Ansetta said. “But over time, the rotational Soldiers would stop by and feed them people food, and they started getting off the farm and hanging out by the Pizza Hut looking for handouts.”
Ansetta said after placing the Pyrenees with a farmer on Toledo Bend, there was a period of time when there was no guard dog for the farm animals. As a result, a coyote killed one of the farm’s Boer goats five nights in a row.
“I knew something had to be done,” Ansetta said. “I did a little research and found an Anatolian Shepherd for sale in East Texas. The owner wanted $125 for the dog, and when I told him it was for Fort Polk, he came down to $100.”
Ansetta said he brought the 6-month-old pup to the Ops Gp Farm and Jack immediately paid dividends.
“The first night I left him alone; the next morning when I came in, I found a dead coyote within the fence,” Ansetta said. “Jack was only 6 months old, but he was already tough enough to take out a coyote.”
Since that day eight years ago, Ansetta said that except for old age, the farm has not lost a goat. Not only that, but Ansetta said he believes Jack thinks he’s part goat.
“He grew up with them and has been around them all his life,” Ansetta said.
“I’ve tried to feed him in a separate area, but he won’t have anything to do with that; he wants his food placed at his spot — the end of the goat’s feed trough.”
While Jack has earned his stripes by protecting the farm herd from wild animals, Ansetta said the fierce-looking dog has also served to keep humans from slipping in unwanted, whether they are rotational Soldiers, permanent party or civilians.
“He carries on like he’s going to tear you up,” Ansetta said. “He’s never bitten anyone, but I sure wouldn’t stick my hand through the fence.”
For eight years, Geronimo Jack has been Ansetta’s daily companion as they care for and provide a touch of realism for rotational units as they prepare to deploy. Ansetta said he hopes Jack will last as long as he does.
“He’s in great shape and still checks the fence perimeter each day,” Ansetta said. “I have noticed that on hot days, he’ll come on back to the shade here instead of staying out in the sun, but he’s doing good.