Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Remembering all the veterans..........

"I guarantee I wouldn't be here if it weren't for her.  And i know there are other service members who wouldn't be here either if it weren't for her," stated James Harrison.

For the first time, a float honoring service dogs will be in the Veteran's parade in New York City, NY today.  It has been sponsored by the American humane Society and Lois Pope and will honor six military dogs and their handlers. The six dogs that will be featured are: Ryky, Maxi, Fieldy, Cena, Cila and Mariah.

Ryky, 8, a Belgian Malinois, worked as a detection dog sniffing out IEDs for two years in Iraq and Afghanistan with her handler, now retired Army Staff Sgt James Harrison, 37.  She would sniff out everything from AK-47's to bomb materials and they were both awarded medals for their actions in June 2011.  A humvee traveling ahead of them was ripped apart by an IED and Harrison with Ryky cleared a path for medics to safely reach two wounded soldiers. He received the Bronze Star and Ryky was awarded the K-9 Medal for Exceptional Service.   Harrison applied to officially adopt Ryky and they were reunited in June and live in Mandeville LA.

Cila, 7, a Chocolate Lab, served almost five years alongside now retired Army Staff Sgt Jason Bos in the military police.  She was trained to sniff out weapons and explosives and served a year in Operation Enduring freedom.  Bos was separated from Cila when his tour of duty ended and it wasn't until April 2014 that they were reunited after her tour ended.  They live together in Grand Rapids MI

 Cena, 7, a Black Lab served with Cpl Jeff DeYoung in Marjah Afghanistan during Operation Moshtarak.  He had been trained to sniff out 300 types of explosives and 1,000 other scents and would work ahead of DeYoung to sniff out possible IEDs.  DeYoung left the service in 2010, married and had two children but when he heard that Cena was retiring after suffering a hip injury, he knew he had to have him.  They were reunited in June 2014, four years after they had last seen each other and he happily lives in Muskegon MI.

Fieldy, 7, a Black Lab, was trained to sniff out IEDs and served in Afghanistan with Cpl Nick Caseres.  When he left the military and returned home, Fieldy continued to work.  They were reunited after being separated for three years in Aug 2014 and both live in McAllen TX.

Maxi, 13, a Belgian Malinois, served multiple tour sniffing out explosives in Iraq and teamed with Cpl Jonathon Cavender for two years in Japan.  Maxi and he did their tour with the military police at the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni Japan.  Cavender is currently stationed at Lackland Air force Base in San Antonio TX and he states that he knew that he was the one meant to give Maxi a home when she retired.  They were reunited in August 2014.

Mariah, 6, a Black Lab, was assigned to now retired Marine Sgt Oscar Pena for seven months while he was in Afghanistan.  She was trained to detect explosives and protect her fellow Marines.  After seven months, she was assigned to another handler in 2010 and when Pena returned home after retirement, he could not forget his "sister" Marine who had served with him.  In July 2014, Pena received word that she would be retired and they were reunited.  Mariah came home to El Paso TX where she had a home full of toys, new family members and plenty of love.

Dogs have probably always accompanied men to war and by WWI they had been integrated into the military.  It has been estimated that by 1916, there were approximately 10,000 Red Cross dogs working in the military, mostly with the French and German armies.  These dogs were trained to recognise the uniform of their country and were sent out to find wounded soldiers, often at night.  They then returned to the handler and led them back to where they had found the wounded man.  Some of the dogs were even trained to work as a team and pull a stretcher with a wounded soldier to safety but it was decided that it was ineffective to use them on the battlefield.

Most dogs at that time were unit mascots if they were not a Red Cross dog but in 1918, a bull terrier named Stubby was smuggled aboard a troop ship headed for France.  Stubby was unafraid of artillery shells and could hear the whine of them coming in long before humans could.  His alert to incoming shells gave the soldiers time to duck into the trenches and saved many lives.  He was a veteran of 17 battles, four offenses and chased down a German spy.  He was elevated from unit mascot to sargent and toured the US, received numerous honors and went on to become a movie star.  Even though he had shown the benefits of having a trained dog accompanying troops, the US military did nothing to train dogs for future use.  They were left holding an empty bag when the US entered WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Just one month after Pearl Harbor, in January 1942, the program "Dogs for Defense was created and was meant to provide trained dogs for the military to guard seaports and military bases.  In March 1942, the program was official and while they had only thought they would be training about 200 dogs, the number quickly expanded.  The public was asked to donate their pet dogs to help win the war and the program originally would accept about 32 different breeds.  This was narrowed down to 18 and then just five breeds by 1944.  Some of the breeds that did not make the cut for the final five breeds were still used within the US for sentry duty.

More than 10,400 dogs were trained through this program to be scouts, sentries, messengers or mine detectors.  Most of these dogs had been donated by families in the US and at the end of the war and after retraining, most were returned to their previous owners or to their war-time handlers.  The US military had finally understood how valuable these dogs and the jobs they did were, so they decided to continue the program.  They did not call upon donated dogs anymore but acquired and owned their own dogs for service.

More than 4,500 dogs served in Vietnam in various positions but scout dog was the most common.  They also were trained as sentries, mine and booby trap dogs and trackers which would track the enemy as they retreated.  Scout dogs would walk with their handler ahead of a patrol and were extremely vulnerable to ambush or hidden explosives and they were so effective that the Viet Cong had placed a bounty on them.  They always worked with the same handler even when their locations were changed.

Dog handlers speak of the bonds they formed with their dogs there and had wondered for years what ever happened to their faithful comrades.  Of the 5,000 dogs that went to Vietnam, only about 200 returned to the US.  The rest had either been euthanized when the military withdrew or they were handed over to the South Vietnamese troops.  The military had found out how valuable the dogs were to troop survival but in the end, they treated the dogs as if they were junk equipment to leave behind.  It has been estimated the the dogs prevented at least 10,000 casualties throughout the war but they were not "important" enough to bring home along with the troops.

In 2000, President Clinton signed into law legislation that created a military working dog adoption program.  The dark secret of Vietnam and the veterans who were never brought home had come to light and people did not want the dogs now serving overseas to face the same fate.  The dogs that are brought home still need to be funded but there are more dogs being reunited with the people they served with.

There are approximately 2,500 dogs currently working in various roles within the military today.  Many of them are working beside their handlers overseas and have been exposed to the same dangers our US soldiers are.  The dogs also face the same "bounty" as they did in Vietnam because of their value in detecting bomb materials, weapons and IEDs.  Most importantly, they are continuing to protect their handlers and the troops that serve with them.  At least now, they can have the opportunity to retire in the US, something that did not happen during Vietnam.

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