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Fort Drum soldiers train with military working dogs to ready for deployments


FORT DRUM — Soldiers from post and their military working dogs trained Thursday to face some of the threats they may experience overseas.

The pairings use the animal’s powerful sense of smell to detect and thwart potential threats such as explosives and illegal drugs.

“K-9 is a very asked-for asset within the Army,” said Sgt. 1st Class Anthony J. Bostwick, the post’s kennel master. “We’re deployed a lot.”

Sgt. Bostwick estimated the post had about 15 teams, using German shepherds, Labrador retrievers and other breeds. The post has not had a full collection of handlers at home in at least five years.

Beyond their military functions, local teams have trained with area police dog units and secured civilian events such as last year’s vice presidential debates.

At the post’s USO office Thursday, dog teams swept through its lounge searching for smells that simulated explosives.

“Come on ... let’s do some hunting,” Sgt. Gloria L. Greenidge said, as she entered with her 3-year-old male Belgian malinois, named Dzamar. The two have been together for about a year.

The two quickly worked through the training, with Sgt. Greenidge placing her hands near areas she wanted the dog to inspect.

Dzamar was able to use the hand signals to find the simulated smell of TNT in a table drawer and behind a television in a computer lab, sitting when he made his discovery.

Each time, he was rewarded with his pink rubber chew toy.

“To the dog, it’s a game,” Sgt. Greenidge said. “You want to keep it fun.”

The skills practiced can come in handy during deployment, said Sgt. Rodolfo Martinez, who returned in December from a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan with his 4-year-old Belgian malinois, Ttaryn. The double-letter spelling indicates she was bred in the Military Working Dog Breeding Program at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.

Sgt. Martinez said using a dog can trim the time to inspect something like the USO building for explosives from about eight hours using only people to about one to two hours.

Paired with artillery and infantry units while deployed across the country, Sgt. Martinez and his dog, who have been together about 18 months, were often leading patrols.

“It’s our responsibility to bring everybody back,” he said. However, he said, the dog’s skills also make him and Ttaryn one of the first targets for insurgents.

In addition to using her sense of smell, Ttaryn served as a morale boost for units she worked with.

“She loves the attention,” Sgt. Martinez said. “They wanted to keep her, and send me back.”

The two soldiers are with the 8th Military Working Dog Detachment, 227th Military Police Detachment, 91st Military Police Battalion. The battalion falls under the 16th Military Police Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C.

Though technically classified by the military as equipment, soldiers described their partner dogs as an integral part of their work.

“You can’t treat the dog like equipment,” Sgt. Greenidge said.

Like their partner soldiers, dogs can be fitted for protective gear, including Kevlar vests, shoes and even dog goggles, called doggles, which protect the dog’s eyes from dust.

Dog handlers have to request specifically to be in the program, and both dogs and handlers are reviewed carefully before being put into service.

“If that bond isn’t connecting, the handler or that dog is going to get switched,” Sgt. Bostwick said.

In recent months, there has been congressional debate on whether dogs should be reclassified as canine service members instead of equipment.

“How could you look at this animal who’s saved thousands of lives and compare them to a tank, a rifle or a Jeep?” said Ronald L. Aiello, president of the United States War Dogs Association, Burlington, N.J. “They’re living beings. ... You have to reclassify them as something reasonable.”

He said a portion of the recently signed 2013 defense authorization bill that would allow for such a change in classification was removed.

However, the bill did approve the transportation of retired military dogs through already scheduled cargo flights that would make post-service adoptions more affordable; for dogs to be honored for exceptional action, and for a framework to be created allowing adopted military dogs to be seen by military veterinarians. Mr. Aiello said the changes would have minimal to no costs for taxpayers.

A letter sent Dec. 31 by six U.S. senators — Richard Blumenthal, John F. Kerry, Olympia J. Snow, Patty Murray, Bernard Sanders and New York’s Kirsten E. Gillibrand — asked Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta to reconsider reclassifying the military dogs.

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