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War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love

War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love



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The amazing bond between soldier and dog is the topic of a powerful new book by Rebecca Frankel. War Dogs will take you into the intense world of dogs on the battlefield. View just some of the amazing photos here and don’t forget to check out the full book!

Reviewed on:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

  • War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love #1

    U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Fehringer guides MWD (Military Working Dog) Suk, across the obedience course at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico on August 15, 2012.

    Photo by Airman First Class Xavier Lockley

  • War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love #2

    Marine Sergeant Charlie Hardesty works with MWD Turbo during a training session at YPG.

  • War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love #3

    Combat Tracker dog Lex—who loves attention—enjoys some free time with his handler, Marine Lance Corporal John Peeler.

    Photo by Rebecca Frankel

  • War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love #4

    While on foot patrol a group of Marines found Layla when she was a puppy, but because of the IED risk, taking her on patrols was too dangerous and they decided to trade her for some cigars to the Marines of the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment. Here she is with her marines from the 1/8 at Shir Ghazay Patrol Base in Landay Nawah County, Afghanistan.

    Photo by Rita Leistner/Basetrack

  • War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love #5

    Layla relaxes in the arms of one of the Marines who took her in during their deployment to Afghanistan.

    Photo by Rita Leistner/Basetrack

  • War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love

    The amazing bond between soldier and dog is the topic of a powerful new book by Rebecca Frankel.


When Dogs Become Soldiers

I actually got jealous when I saw some of the soldiers over there with dogs deeply attached to them. It was the nearest thing to civilization in this weird foreign life of ours.

As the plane dropped it felt like falling, but the turns were too tight, too controlled. The C-17 twisted in a swift

plummet—down, down, down—without slowing. The dogs in their crates registered the strange sensation, a few hovering on the floor of their kennels, legs splayed, eyes darting and nervous. Neither they nor their 12 handlers who had left San Diego some 20 hours earlier were enjoying this motion. Some gripped their seats, others had their eyes closed, no doubt fighting a thick wave of nausea. The corkscrew landing pattern of the plane’s descent was a combat zone necessity, as was the short approach to the flight line. They came down so hard and so fast that as the plane met the ground, the g-force slapped against their bodies.

When the men stepped off the plane and into the Iraq air, there was nothing but darkness, no way to discern where they were. The three Special Forces guys who had also been on their flight had already melted away into the night.

Only a couple of days before, Staff Sergeant Sean Lulofs and the 11 other Air Force handlers had been at Camp Pendleton in California for their in-processing: filling out the necessary paper work at the Marine Corps base before they could begin their deployment. A lieutenant colonel gave them their first briefing for the mission they would undertake, Operation Phantom Fury. She did not mince words. The Marine Corps, she told them, anticipates that at least two to three of you will be killed in action.

The response in the room had been utter silence. At first the handlers thought this woman had to be bullshitting them, that she was just saying this because the Marine Corps thought they were weak-ass Air Force guys. But it soon sunk in that this was not the lieutenant colonel’s motivation. She was letting them know how deadly serious their deployment was going to be: they would be embedding deep within the Marines’ infantry units, and it was crucial that they understand the risk implicit in this assignment. It would be so dangerous, in fact, that when the Marine Corps had conducted its objective assessment of their upcoming mission, it fully expected this group of handlers to come back at a loss.

Holy shit, Lulofs had thought. I’m not going home.

Truth be told, he hadn’t wanted to deploy in the first place. The news of four American contractors who’d been killed that March had dominated the headlines the images of a mob pulling charred corpses through the streets to then dangle them from a bridge over the Euphrates were fresh in his mind.¹ From the outside, the Iraqis appeared to be full of rage and they were directing their ire at Americans.

When Lulofs’s commander had told him he and his dog Aaslan would be deploying, they’d given him less than eight hours’ notice. Almost his whole life he’d dreamed of joining the Air Force to be a narcotics detection dog handler, and then, all of a sudden, he was frenzied, packing his bags to go to war. The thought of what it really meant scared the living crap out of him. Iraq was the last place in the world he wanted to be.

But there he was. The 12 handlers stood on the tarmac, in the dark with no idea where the hell they were. There was a mandatory military blackout so they couldn’t use lights. They hadn’t packed night vision goggles they didn’t know they were going to need them. Lulofs wondered what else they might need that they would have to do without. After a few minutes the men began to load their weapons. Then a deep voice sounded nearby. Are you the Air Force guys?

Lulofs felt a twinge of relief this voice was familiar. It was Gunnery Sergeant William Kartune, a rugged, no-bullshit Marine in charge of all the dog teams in Iraq from Baghdad to Al Anbar. He had come to collect the handlers.

It was March 2004. With their arrival, the call for approximately 30 Air Force and Marine Corps dog teams was complete. For the first time in nearly three decades the United States had dispatched a force of military dogs and their handlers to fight a war.

After that night, the dozen air force handlers sectioned off into smaller groups. Lulofs ended up with another handler, a staff sergeant with a big chip on his compact shoulder named Joshua Farnsworth. Together they took their dogs to Camp Baharia, the post for which none of the others had volunteered. An assignment to Camp Baharia meant lots of


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About the Author

Reviews

"At the beginning of "War Dogs," Rebecca Frankel presents us with an uncomfortable truth: 'There is something less complicated (and ironically more human) about relating to war through the story of a dog.' By the end of her heart-warming and heart-wrenching book, you'll know what she means -- if you don't already." --Becky Krystal, "The Washington Post
"
"Is a war dog 'a furry but devoted weapon?' Frankel, a senior editor at Foreign Policy, asks. 'A faithful fighter? A fierce soldier? A guardian who keeps watch in the night?" --Bronwen Dickey, "The New York Times"

"Military aficionados as well as dog lovers will learn from and enjoy this study of canine commandos and the service people who count on them."--"Publishers Weekly"

"The relationship between the handler and the handled is 'built first on a mutual trust. with a greater sense of loyalty and even love, ' and [Frankel's] examples affectingly prove the bond."--"Marine Corps Times"

"This is a lovely book but it's also a surprising book. I opened it looking forward to reading a few good stories about the use of dogs in war. But midway through it, the realization hit me that this is something larger than that, and far deeper: it is a meditation on war and humans. It illuminates conflict from the unexpected angle of the allure of war, and the damage it does to both species."--Thomas E. Ricks, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist

"Full of compelling stories about military dogs and the handlers who love them (and are often told not to). . Frankel has done a brilliant job of taking us into another world of dogs and soldiers in war."--Patricia McConnell, author of "The Other End of the Leash"

"Full of information about the nature, history, and training of military service canines, "War Dogs" sometimes reads like an adventure and sometimes reads like a novel that focuses on relationships and affection (here between a soldier and a dog). It is a very satisfying and often emotional read." --
Stanley Coren, author of "The Wisdom of Dogs"

"A truly wonderful account of 'man's best friend' in combat--and post-combat--missions: an inspirational, moving book that explains the extraordinary nature of the relationship between dogs and their military handlers in war and the equally extraordinary nature of the relationships between canine companions and military veterans dealing with the seen and unseen wounds of combat."--General David H. Petraeus (U.S. Army, Retired)

"As an active duty MWD handler, I am always thrilled but equally as wary to hear that someone has written about MWD teams (we're protective like that). Thankfully, Frankel has done a superb job in both communicating what these teams can do on a level that is understandable to civilian and military alike, and highlighting the unique and lasting bond built between dog and handler, a bond many could not otherwise understand."--Military Working Dogs Facebook Page Administrator

"Skillfully. brilliant narrative." --"Military Review"
"Full of information about the nature, history, and training of military service canines, "War Dogs" sometimes reads like an adventure and sometimes reads like a novel that focuses on relationships and affection (here between a soldier and a dog). It is a very satisfying and often emotional read." --
Stanley Coren, author of "The Wisdom of Dogs"
Full of information about the nature, history, and training of military service canines, "War Dogs" sometimes reads like an adventure and sometimes reads like a novel that focuses on relationships and affection (here between a soldier and a dog). It is a very satisfying and often emotional read.--Stanley Coren, author of The Wisdom of Dogs

In this moving yet uncompromising book, Rebecca Frankel pays a tender tribute to a very special breed of dogs and men. "The Washington Times"

An exceptionally interesting and surprisingly moving book. "Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post"

At the beginning of "War Dogs," Rebecca Frankel presents us with an uncomfortable truth: 'There is something less complicated (and ironically more human) about relating to war through the story of a dog.' By the end of her heart-warming and heart-wrenching book, you'll know what she means -- if you don't already. "Becky Krystal, The Washington Post"

Is a war dog 'a furry but devoted weapon?' Frankel, a senior editor at Foreign Policy, asks. 'A faithful fighter? A fierce soldier? A guardian who keeps watch in the night? "Bronwen Dickey, The New York Times"

Military aficionados as well as dog lovers will learn from and enjoy this study of canine commandos and the service people who count on them. "Publishers Weekly"

The relationship between the handler and the handled is 'built first on a mutual trust. with a greater sense of loyalty and even love, ' and [Frankel's] examples affectingly prove the bond. "Marine Corps Times"

This is a lovely book but it's also a surprising book. I opened it looking forward to reading a few good stories about the use of dogs in war. But midway through it, the realization hit me that this is something larger than that, and far deeper: it is a meditation on war and humans. It illuminates conflict from the unexpected angle of the allure of war, and the damage it does to both species. "Thomas E. Ricks, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist"

Full of compelling stories about military dogs and the handlers who love them (and are often told not to). . Frankel has done a brilliant job of taking us into another world of dogs and soldiers in war. "Patricia McConnell, author of The Other End of the Leash"

Full of information about the nature, history, and training of military service canines, "War Dogs" sometimes reads like an adventure and sometimes reads like a novel that focuses on relationships and affection (here between a soldier and a dog). It is a very satisfying and often emotional read. Stanley Coren, author of The Wisdom of Dogs

A truly wonderful account of man's best friend' in combat--and post-combat--missions: an inspirational, moving book that explains the extraordinary nature of the relationship between dogs and their military handlers in war and the equally extraordinary nature of the relationships between canine companions and military veterans dealing with the seen and unseen wounds of combat. "General David H. Petraeus (U.S. Army, Retired)"

As an active duty MWD handler, I am always thrilled but equally as wary to hear that someone has written about MWD teams (we're protective like that). Thankfully, Frankel has done a superb job in both communicating what these teams can do on a level that is understandable to civilian and military alike, and highlighting the unique and lasting bond built between dog and handler, a bond many could not otherwise understand. "Military Working Dogs Facebook Page Administrator"

Skillfully. brilliant narrative. "Military Review""


War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism

By Rebecca Frankel

Chapter 9: The Never Again Wars

In World War II, it is said that war dogs saved 15,000 men. In Vietnam, the dogs were credited with saving the lives of 10,000 men, but many handlers who served there feel that this number is grossly underestimated. Of approximately 87,000 missions, the dogs uncovered 2,000 tunnels and bunkers and enabled 1,000 enemy captures and 4,000 enemy kills.

How big that number will be many years from now, when we are in a position to tally the lives saved by war dogs in Iraq and Afghanistan, one cannot say. But Technical Sergeant Justin Kitts was awarded his Bronze Star in 2011 for his detection work with Dyngo during their Afghanistan deployment, and for having secured the lives of 30,000 US, host nation, and coalition forces. And that was just for one dog team on one tour of duty. Equally impossible to tally are the lives that have been recovered, even in some small way, by a dog’s cathartic presence, on a battlefield or in a wounded warrior treatment center.

Marines with Marine Corps Special Operations Command conduct a Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction exercise on a CH-53E aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Sept. 13, 2013. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony Carter
Image is in the public domain via Task & Purpose

From war to war, these numbers are often forgotten.

It is an unfortunate scenario that’s already played out twice in the United States: post–World War II and post-Vietnam. The value of war dogs has been lost as often as it has been found.

These events usually go a little something like this: the United States engages in a conflict. Someone, a person or group, with great resilience and spirit, petitions the military to adopt a canine fighting force, touting their many lifesaving skills. Someone in a position of power gives an order, and a small contingent of dogs is procured, trained, and deployed. Once in- country, the dogs prove to be of great value on the battlefield and save many lives. Next comes an “urgent need” request from the combat arena: “Send more dogs!” And so efforts are pooled, handlers and dogs are trained with fervor and speed. Sometimes concessions are made, sometimes shortcuts are taken, but more dogs are sent to war. The military parades the dogs’ successes, the media seizes upon their stories, and headlines capture the hearts of civilians at home.

The wars slow down and eventually end. The tremendous canine force is scaled back, as are the combat-ready aspects of the dog programs, until they are virtually nonexistent.

Read more about War Dogs here

If the war was unpopular, the lessons are lost all the more quickly. This tendency of the US military to strategize with a selective memory is one with which John Nagl, coauthor of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual along with Generals David H. Petraeus and James F. Amos, is well familiar.

The Pentagon is traditionally accused of preparing for the last war. But according to Nagl, who was an operations officer of a tank battalion task force during the Iraq War, that’s not exactly what happens. We prepare to refight the last war only if it was the kind of war we had wanted to fight. The wars the US military is interested in fighting again are wars where they’ve had success, such as the American Civil War and World War II.

A military working dog wears Doggles to protect his eyes as a Chinook helicopter takes off, May 2010. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jason Brace.
Image is in the public domain via Task & Purpose

The irony of this, Nagl explains to me, is that in recent decades, the American military hasn’t spent its time fighting big and successful wars like these. Instead, we have fought small wars, irregular wars—the kind of wars waged with IEDs. Despite this reality, the military still builds the capabilities it needs for those “big” wars, not the capabilities it needs for what Nagl calls the “small nasty wars of peace.”

And when the military tries to do that, it makes mistakes, which is when the lessons learned become especially important. In fact, Nagl says, “we have rediscovered many, many lessons that we actually learned and paid for in great cost in Vietnam.” One of those lessons, Nagl says, “is the utility of working dogs, who were invaluable in Vietnam. [We] couldn’t get enough of them didn’t ever have enough of them.” But after Vietnam, he says, the skills of those war dogs, as with almost everything about Vietnam, was purged from our memory. “And that’s a lesson we had to relearn. We are in danger of forgetting a number of those lessons,” Nagl tells me. And that includes the dogs.

In the years following the Vietnam War, the US military began to disassemble its war dog programs little by little, dismantling ten years of combat readiness. In a shroud of shame, the dog programs slipped away—first the tracker dogs, then the scout dog school at Fort Benning. There was no outside organization watching over the military efforts for the war dogs deployed to Vietnam as there was in World War II.

A March 1945 photo of members of a U.S. Marine Corps war dog platoon moving up to the front lines in Iwo Jima, Japan, during World War II. AP Photo.
Image is in the public domain via Task & Purpose

The Vietnam chapter, which will remain a perpetual blemish in the United States’ war dog history, is perhaps the most troubled and difficult to reconcile. But each war has its own dogs—from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam—and each war has its own saga. How the dogs came in, and how they came out again, is as important, in some ways, as what they did while they were there. Their entry and exit unearths a relevant truth. This discernible pattern of US war dog history is one of building to a great success that is later shelved and forgotten, only to be rebuilt again when the need arises. It’s a precedent that creates the kind of disadvantage no one would be able to fully realize until 2004, when it was time to send the dogs back to war, so many years after Vietnam.

Rebecca Frankel is deputy editor at Foreign Policy. She is the author of War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love a New York Times bestselling book about canines in combat, the subject of her regular Friday column “Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week,” featured on The Best Defense. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, National Geographic, Slate, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. Most recently, Frankel has been as a guest on Conan O’Brien, BBC World News, and the Diane Rehm Show among others.


Watch the video: Book TV: Rebecca Frankel, War Dogs