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Military dogs are an increasingly common sight in areas of military strife, as they are tasked to perform more duties than ever. Fighting alongside soldiers, these dogs—German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Labradors—are the American military’s choice of dog breeds.

 Traditionally trained for protection, pursuing intruders and for search and rescue operations, these canines are also trained to sniff out homemade bombs, which are responsible for causing the most number of casualties in Afghanistan. The American military say that no technology can do better than these dogs. And rightfully so, since dogs have superior olfactory senses and are quick to react to threats.

 If you think that these dogs are exploited, think again: the American Marines treat their canine counterparts as fellow soldiers. Captain Manuel Zepeda, the commander of Company F, S econd Battalion, Sixth Marines, has said that they “consider the dog another Marine.” An incident that occurred last year in Marja, Afghanistan involving the attack of a local dog on the Marines’ Labrador ended up in the death of the local dog. Had the Lab been hurt in that attack, the Marines would have called for a medevac helicopter to save its life. After all, training for these military dogs do not come cheap. Estimates put the cost of training canine training to go up to $40,000 per dog.

 As with all deaths, it is sad when these dogs die in the line of duty. To date, more than 350 dogs have been killed in Afghanistan, with most of the casualties caused by homemade bombs. Within the Special Operations Command alone, 34 dogs were killed during the Bin Laden Mission between 2006-2009. One particular story of the canine-handler relationship has stood out. Just moments before Private First Class Colton Rusk, a machine gunner and dog handler, was shot to death, fellow Marines saw Rusk’s bomb dog Eli crawling over Rusk’s body to protect him.

 After Rusk’s death, Eli was adopted by Rusk’s parents who reported that the first thing Eli did when he entered the house was to head straight to Rusk’s room and made himself comfortable on the bed. Eli was not only a bomb dog and a fellow soldier—he was also a loyal friend.

 How many of us have heard such stories of a dog’s loyalty? Doubtless, Eli was trained to protect his handler, but his actions even after Eli’s death portrayed a being that not only missed his master but a close friend.


Adapted from “Canine Soldiers, Beloved and Battle-Tested” Today 21 May 2011