We get a bonus with a piece from VFF embed Erik Swabb on the use of military bomb-sniffing dogs.
Seven years after September 11, the Long War has clearly transformed the U.S. military, creating important new capabilities. Here at Camp Victory in Baghdad, the Army’s 67th Engineer Detachment, 5th Engineer Battalion from Fort Leonard Wood, MO is a prime example of this transformation. This joint unit handles bomb-sniffing dogs that are uniquely suited for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These dogs can search off the leash, giving greater flexibility and protection to troops on patrol.
Any armed force fighting an insurgency becomes intimately familiar with two types of operations: IED sweeps and arms cache searches. When I served in Iraq back in 2004-2005 with the Marines, we had only three ways of finding these bombs and weapons: tips from Iraqis, metal detectors, and our own eyes. Human intelligence was usually the best, but it always carried the risk of either the Iraqi being wrong or the tip being a set up for an ambush. Metal detectors would give a lot of false positives due to the amount of metal junk in Iraq. With experience and extended time in one area, we could pick up signs of IEDS or arms caches—disturbed dirt, obvious places to bury items, etc.—but this technique was obviously far from perfect. Metal detectors and the human eye also put the Marine doing the sweep at great risk. By the time he discovered something, he was on top of it and could be blown up.
The 67th Engineer Detachment handles specialized search dogs (SSDs), a capability established shortly after September 11. Most people are familiar with military police dogs, which both detect explosives and attack on command. SSDs only detect explosives and weapons. As a result, it is not necessary to keep these friendly dogs on a leash. Capt. Timothy Butler from St. Louis, MO, the OIC of the detachment, and Staff Sgt. David Gerts from Brook, IN took the time to explain the benefits of this capability. With SSDs, soldiers can remain farther away from the target area than they can with human or metal detector searches. If the dog finds something, it shows a change in behavior and the unit can bring in the EOD team.
SSDs also cut down search times. The dogs can cover an area faster and more efficiently than engineers with metal detectors. Sgt. Justin McGhee from Fort Lauderdale, FL demonstrated the process with Archie, an energetic and friendly dog. Searching a large heap of dirt and rubble, Archie quickly found the buried bag of explosives and signaled Sgt. McGhee. It was an impressive display of the close bond between handlers and their dogs, who are paired together from training through deployment.
In short, SSDs are a maneuver enhancer, force multiplier, and force protector. It is easy to see why combat units keep the detachment busy. The 67th Engineer Detachment has helped discover countless IEDs and arms caches and has provided evidence to put away bomb makers in Iraq. The detachment is just one example of how the U.S. military has adapted to irregular warfare, helping to level the playing field with terrorists and insurgents who hide among civilians.