War Dogs: Unsung Heroes Of A Nation At War

A photo of a military working dog and his handler alongside weapons most likely detected by the dog.

The history of dogs used in war can be traced back to the Egyptians in 700 BC. In fact, most major civilizations since then have used war dogs. Examples include sentries by the Greeks and Romans as well as enemy killers by the Spanish Conquistadors.

The history of war dogs in the U.S. military goes back to the Second Seminole War in 1835. Troops

used Cuban-bred bloodhounds to track Indians in the swamps of Florida. Dogs were said to have guarded soldiers in the Civil War. During World War I both sides used tens of thousands of dogs as messengers.

In a recent article, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J) told the story of a bull terrier who served in the Army’s 102nd Infantry World War I:

Sgt. Stubby captured German spies, comforted wounded soldiers and saved the lives of countless doughboys by sniffing out poisonous gas and barking out warnings to men in the trenches.

During World War II, a War Dog Program was organized in 1943. This program designed eight different uses for the dogs: Sentry, Attack, Tactical, Silent Scout, Messenger, Casualty (assist medical corps), Sledge (find downed airmen in snowed-in areas), and Pack (carry up to 40 pounds).

Dogs were also used in the Korean War and Vietnam. In the latter war, dogs found booby traps, detected mines, and located enemy personnel. One historical fact: Sergeant First Class Mendez was the first person to

HALO (High Altitude; Low Open) jump (military parachute free fall) with his K-9, a 46-pound German shepherd named Pal, strapped to him on April 29th, 1968.

A great example of a military working dog (MWD) in present day was on May 2, 2011, when U.S Navy SEALs used a Belgian Malinois named Cairo in Operation Neptune Spear, the military operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed.

And Mike Forsythe and his dog Cara wore oxygen when they broke the world record for highest man/dog parachute deployment which began at 30,100 feet.

Ron Aiello president of the U.S. War Dogs Association, Inc., said

some 10,000 dogs have served the United States in combat. About 2,800 to 3,000 are currently deployed around the world “in combat and protecting assets at home and abroad.

Special gear has been developed for war dogs, including life jackets, protective vests including Kevlar, remote televising camera systems, night vision goggles
Perhaps most novel and up-to-date is “infrared nightsight cameras and an intruder communication system able to penetrate concrete walls.”

But these dogs are not 100% accurate in what they do. In 2014, Marine Corporal Jose Armenta told the story when his dog Zenit missed an IED. The dog walked past it and, unfortunately, Armenta stepped on it, losing both of his legs above his knees. Fortunately, these reports are very few!

Congress is now getting involved with MWDs. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) said, “The relationship between the dogs and servicemen, that shouldn’t be broken. That dog should be theirs.”

And last year, Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) introduced H.R.2742, “To amend title 10, United States Code, to require that military working dogs be retired in the United States, and for other purposes.” The legislation would ensure the MWDs would be able to return home after they have completed their combat service overseas. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced a similar bill in the Senate. This was a great idea but no action has taken place on the bill since it was introduced.

Here are four interesting sources of information about U.S. military working dogs.

1. A photo array entitled, Afghanistan: Dogs of War, provides 40 pictures of war dogs and their handlers in different units of U.S. military, NATO, and coalition forces;

2. A variety of video documentaries of war dogs available here;

3. A 26-page document written by SSgt Tracy L. English entitled, “The Quiet Americans: A History of Military Working Dogs”;


4. United States War Dogs Association, Inc., which has seven items in their mission statement all relating to education and support of MWDs, helping to establish a national memorial, and post-deployment outreach to returning troops.

These wonderful animals, who have saved countless numbers of our military on the battlefield, are indeed unsung heroes of our nation’s military!

Chuck Yarling has had many titles in his career thus far: veteran, engineer, math teacher, consultant, technical writer, book author and publisher, and triathlete. He was a member the Military Order of the Purple Heart and Bugles Across America, which plays Taps at military funerals and special events. Spec. 5 Chuck Yarling served with the 26th Combat Engineering Battalion in Vietnam as an awards clerk. His service with the U.S. Army resulted in being awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Army Commendation Medal. You may reach Chuck at [email protected]