Military Working Dogs of Gulf War, Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan

Silent Heroes of war

I watch my dogs basking in the sun, the tip of their tail swishing just as I think of them, standing against the door frame. Can they read my mind? I know they will shake off their dreams and follow me as I stroll around the yard.
Their heart chooses to follow mine.
That’s how dogs are.

118 Military Working Dog Teams were deployed to the Gulf region for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. In the War on Terrorism a big threat are explosives hidden on a person, in a vehicle, or a roadside location. Therefore, Explosives Detection Dogs were, and still are, specially trained to alert when they sense the specific chemicals used in explosives, either packed, hidden or even as powder remains on the humans that handled them or on their clothes . Explosive Dogs are deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and in many other US locations for this purpose alone.

Military Working Dogs of Gulf War, Iraq War and  the War in Afghanistan

2000, Robby’s Law, one reason to cheer for former President Clinton

Before President Clinton passed “Robby’s Law” in 2000, military working dogs were considered “military surplus equipment” and deemed unfit to adjust to civilian life. This meant that once the military could no longer use, need or afford a canine, the once treasure four-legged was either released or euthanized instead of honored. After “Robby’s Law” was passed, handlers (who had already formed a strong bond with their canine mate) and their families were first to be offered the opportunity at adopting these military animals at the completion of their service.

Military Working Dogs of Gulf War, Iraq War and Afghanistan War

Some soldiers even used their military operational bonus to buy the dog that served with them.

MWD watching and soldier sleeping
MWD watching and soldier sleeping.

“Fluffy was my Comrade in arms first, then he walked into my heart as my friend and became my buddy then he became part of my family.
He was not a pet! He was a soldier first. During our time in Iraq he checked on me and I checked on him. He was one of the team, he was my battle buddy! If I sat down he would sit no farther than five feet away. If I got up and moved ten feet he would get up and move ten feet. “

Russel, on K920Fluffy (Iraq War vet) – USAWarDogs.org
Photo of U.S. Army veteran Joe Steenbeke with military dog Tess in Afghanistan Credit Reunite Joe and Tess, Facebook
Photo of U.S. Army veteran Joe Steenbeke with military dog Tess in Afghanistan Credit Reunite Joe and Tess, Facebook

For the dog training program, Iraq came too late after Vietnam

The first 30 dog teams sent into Iraq in 2004 were the “guinea pigs”, all tactical lessons and experience gained during the Vietnam war lost. What made it worthwhile for the dog teams were the canines, with their honest, open and loving personalities.

Iraq  Afghanistan - buddies, militry dog and soldier

The Paradogs: the parachuting dogs of war

By 2008 German Shepherd dogs already jumped from aircrafts at 25,000ft, strapped to a member of the special forces assault teams. Later, Belgian Malinois dogs, lighter and stubbier, were considered better for the tandem parachute jumping and rappelling operations often undertaken by SEAL teams. The tandem jumping was done to protect the canines on landing.

Ready for tandem jumping. Source Foreign Policy
Ready for tandem jumping. Source Foreign Policy

A military dog would only be allowed to jump solo form a helicopter if he lands in water and only if properly outfitted with a flotation vest. Such dogs were trained to accompany soldiers on ‘High Altitude High Opening’ (HAHO) parachute jumps. After landing, men and MWDs would still have to travel 20 miles to their targets.

Military dogs trained to accompany soldiers on 'High Altitude High Opening' (HAHO) parachute jumps. Source Foreign Policy
Military dogs trained to accompany soldiers on ‘High Altitude High Opening’ (HAHO) parachute jumps. Source Foreign Policy

These MWDs had small cameras fixed to their heads and, trained to penetrate the enemy lines before their human partners, would hunt for Taliban or insurgent hideouts. The cameras will sent live images back to the troops while the dogs warn of possible ambushes.

MWD dogs equipped with Canine Tactical Assault Vests
MWD dogs equipped with Canine Tactical Assault Vests

The elite American unit, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, commonly known as Delta Force, has pioneered the parachute technique from heights over 20,000ft.

U.S. Army soldier with the 10th Special Forces Group and his military working dog jump off the ramp of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment during water training over the Gulf of Mexico:

U.S. Army soldier with the 10th Special Forces Group and his military working dog jump off the ramp of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment during water training over the Gulf of Mexico. DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez, U.S. Air Force.
Training over the Gulf of Mexico. MWDs show no fear. A military dog would only be allowed to jump solo form a helicopter if he lands in water

2009: U.S. Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and a MWD wait for helicopter transport as part of Operation Khanjar at Camp Dwyer in Helmand Province in Afghanistan on July 2, 2009:

U.S. Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade wait for helicopter transport as part of Operation Khanjar at Camp Dwyer in Helmand Province in Afghanistan on July 2, 2009

Navy Seal teams are trained to parachute from great heights and deploy out of helicopters with dogs. In 2010 the Seals bought four waterproof tactical vests for their dogs that featured infrared and night-vision cameras and an ‘intruder communication system’ able to penetrate concrete walls. The MWD’s handlers — using a three-inch monitor from as far as 1,000 yards away — could immediately see what the dogs were seeing. The vests, which come in coyote tan and camouflage, let handlers communicate with the dogs through a speaker and were strong enough to protect the dogs from harm due to everything, from bullets to ice picks. The four vests together cost over $86,000 at the time, says a 2011 NY Times article.

MWD K9 gear - best body Armor available for military dogs. Source K9 Storm
MWD K9 gear – the best body Armor for military dogs. Source K9 Storm

The world record for highest man-dog parachute jump

In 2011 U.S. Military Handler Mike Forsythe, a former US Navy SEAL turned canine parachute instructor for military and search & rescue units and his dog Cara, strapped on a K9 Storm Vest tactical body armor and fitted an oxygen mask, jumped in tandem from over 30,100 feet, the altitude at which transoceanic passenger jets fly. Cara is a Belgian Malinois.

Highest man-dog parachute jump. Mike Forsythe and Cara. Photo source: K9 Storm Inc Handout Reuters
Highest man-dog parachute jump. Mike Forsythe and Cara. Photo source: K9 Storm Inc Handout Reuters

In October 2010 the Pentagon announced that after six years and $19 billion spent in the attempt to build the ultimate bomb detector technology, dogs were still the most accurate sniffers around. The rate of detection with the Pentagon’s fanciest equipment — drones and aerial detectors — was a 50 percent success rate, but when a dog was involved it rose an extra 30 percent.

War dog canine military service SEAL team repelling from a helicopter
War dog canine military service SEAL team repelling from a helicopter

Marines began a pilot program in Afghanistan with nine bomb-sniffing dogs, a number that reached approximately 650 at the end of 2011 and 2,800 active-duty dogs in 2013, making it the largest canine contingent in the world.

The MWD who took Osama bin Laden down

Not many know, but the 81 members of the American commando team who blitzed into Abbottabad, Pakistan, to capture and kill Osama bin Laden had a MWD with them. Some say he was the U.S.’s most courageous dog, yet little was known about him until recently. his name is Cairo and he is a Belgian Malinois.

MWD Cairo, the war dog who helped take Osama bin Laden down, the 81st member of SEAL team who blitzed into Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011
MWD Cairo, the war dog who helped take Osama bin Laden down, the 81st member of SEAL team who blitzed into Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011

MWDs in the War in Afghanistan

NATO soldier carries sniffing dog after gun battle in Kabul on April 16 2012. Source: Boston archive
A NATO soldier carries sniffing dog after gun battle in Kabul on April 16 2012. A brazen 18hrs Taliban attack on the capital ended when insurgents overcome heavy gunfire from Afghan led forces and pre-dawn air assaults from coalition helicopter. Source: Boston Archive

How MWDs contribute to the local Afghan economy

Maintaining a Military Base, building roads and maintaining them requires constant effort. Often local contractors are used, in an attempt to support the local (Afghan) economy. But to keep the soldiers safe, each local truck or worker has to be checked for possible hidden explosives (they are aware of or not). Here is where Vehicle Search dogs play an important role.

There is always peace between a MWD, a Marine and local Afghan children caught in the war.
There is always peace between a MWD, a Marine and local Afghan children caught in the war.

Surviving the harsh climate in Afghanistan

If you wondered how the MWDs survive the harsh climate of Afghanistan, know that (some) of their kennels are equipped with air conditioning and, often, if an army base has a swimming pool – that definitely is not for the benefit of the humans.

LCpl Natasha Mooney on patrol with Panchio in Helmand Province - Source British Army blog
LCpl Natasha Mooney on patrol with Panchio in Helmand Province, Afghanistan

Dog Breeds preferred as MWDs by U.S. Military

U.S. military prefers mostly German and Dutch shepherds and Belgian Malinois, breeds because they are aggressive, smart, loyal and athletic.

Training together: Staff Sgt. Erick Martinez, a military dog handler uses an over-the-shoulder carry to hold his dog, Argo II, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The exercise helps build trust, loyalty, and teamwork. Source Foriegn Policy.
Staff Sgt. Erick Martinez, a military dog handler, uses an over-the-shoulder carry with Argo II during an exercise at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The exercise helps build trust, loyalty and teamwork for Sergeant Martinez and Argo II, who have been working together for only two months. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Allen Stokes)

German Shepherd dogs are the standard breed because they are considered to be intelligent, dependable, predictable, easily trained, usually moderately aggressive, and can adapt quickly to almost any climatic conditions.

Buddies training together. Having each-other's  back.
Buddies training together. Having each-other’s back.

Single-purpose dogs are used for one purpose only: sniffing out explosives or narcotics. Retrievers (Labrador, Golden or Chesapeake Bay) are preferred, also Viszlas, various short-and wire-haired pointers, Jack Russell terriers and even small poodles. These are all nose, no bite dogs. These dogs are trained to locate either drugs or explosives – never both. “When your dog makes an alert you need to know whether to run away and call the explosives people or whether to go arrest someone.”

Praying together. A military dog and his human handler.
Praying together

It is empowering, yet worrisome to find out that military working dogs today train for such a diverse range of tasks: EDD (Explosive Detector Dog), NDD (Narcotics Detector Dog), SSD (Specialized Search Dog) – trained to work off leash, at long distances from their handler, in order to find explosives. SDD dogs work by hand signals, and can even receive commands via radio receivers they wear on their backs, attached to their bulletproof doggy vest, and TEDD (Tactical Explosive Detector Dog).

A dog can have up to 225 million olfactory receptors in his nose and the part of their brain devoted to scent is 40 times greater than that of a human.

“A dog can see through his nose.”

Mike Dowling, former Marine Corps dog handler, Iraq
MWD and his handler keeping watch together
Keeping watch together

More single purpose dogs, like the dogs I depicted in my latest novel Silent Heroes: CTD (Combat Tracker Dog) trained to detect where IEDs and weapons caches are located; MDD (Mine Detection Dog): these dogs do slow off-leash searches for buried mines and artillery; IDD (IED Detector Dog), this is a temporary program created to fulfill the urgent need for bomb dogs, especially in Afghanistan.

Never Give Up - A MWD hurt by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device)
Never Give Up – A MWD hurt by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device)

Of course, there are dual-purpose dogs, multi-purpose canines, the special K-9 Corps of CIA.

What are vapor-wake dogs?

Scientists at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine have genetically bred and specially trained canines that are able do more than just detect stationary bombs or bomb-making materials. These MWDs can identify and alert their handler to the moving scent of explosive devices and materials left behind in the air.
If a suicide bomber walks through a crowd, these dogs would be able to tell him apart without ever tipping off the perpetrator.
The cost of breeding and training vapor-wake dogs is around $20,000 each, still less than the cost of training most MWDs.

U.S. sergeant Matthew Templet and his bomb-sniffing dog Basco search for the explosives in an abandoned house in Haji, Ghaffar village, during a clearance patrol in Zari district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan on Dec. 27, 2010.Source Foreign Policy
U.S. sergeant Matthew Templet and his bomb-sniffing dog Basco search for the explosives in an abandoned house in Haji, Ghaffar village, during a clearance patrol in Zari district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan on Dec. 27, 2010. Source Foreign Policy

The Difference between a German Shepherd and a Belgian Malinois dog

But training is much more than teaching a dog commands. It is bonding, above anything else.

Dereck Stevens bonds with his military working dog before a practice drill at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Credit Bryce Harper for The New York Times.jpg
Dereck Stevens bonds with his military working dog before a practice drill at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Credit Bryce Harper for The New York Times

There is no count to the number of hidden bombs detected and the human lives saved by the MWDs today, yet it is certain that the use of these dogs marked a pivotal moment for the coalition forces on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially when it comes to the moral of the troops and the freedom of movement for the ground patrols operating in combat areas.

U.S. Marines attached to 1st Battalion, 6th regiment, Charlie Company relax with their bomb-sniffing dogs Books and Good one in Huskers camp on the outskirts of Marjah in central Helmand, Afgganistan, on Jan. 25, 2010. Source Foreign Policy
U.S. Marines attached to 1st Battalion, 6th regiment, Charlie Company relax with their bomb-sniffing dogs Books and Good one in Huskers camp on the outskirts of Marjah in central Helmand, Afgganistan, on Jan. 25, 2010. Source Foreign Policy

The bond formed between military dogs and their human handlers is stronger than an outsider can imagine, helping the soldiers cope with a ghastly war.

Always by your side.
The bond between the human handler and the military dog goes very deep. Always by your side.

In crucial moments, when humans naturally tend to doubt themselves, a dog will sense the tension and still trust his handler, and this tips the situation in the favor of the human-dog team.

A dog sits at the grave of his owner, who died in conflict.
A dog sits at the grave of his owner, who died in conflict.

All dogs trained and used by the U.S. military are procured and trained by the 341st Military Working Dog Training Squadron, Lackland AFB, TX.

Marine war dogs memorial.jpg
Marine war dogs memorial
2012 army photo competition.Amateur Portrait category runner-up Cpl Dawson and his dog Lightning rest up in TCP West.Picture Captain Richard Willing MoD Crown Copyright via Getty Images
Army Photographic Competition 2012…(STRICTLY EMBARGOED UNTIL OCTOBER 10, 2012 00:01HRS BST) In this handout image supplied by the Ministry of Defence Crown Copyright, photo entitled ‘LIGHTNING AND HIS HANDLER’, depicting Cpl Dawson and his dog Lightning rest up in TCP West. (Army Amateur Portrait category runner up; Photo by Captain Richard Willing/MoD/Mandatory Credit Crown Copyright via Getty Images)

Doggles – goggles for dogs!

MWD with doggles, goggles for dogs, in an army helicopter
Doggles – it is all about protection

Dogs, the Silent Heroes of any war

Some might argue that the use of animals, and lately dogs, in war borders an ethical dilemma. Yet during conflicts, saving human lives (be it military or civilians, always dragged in combat) always takes first stage and it is certain that hundreds, if not thousands of men, women and children owe their life, in one way or another, to the military working dogs, MWDs, who served beside them.

My latest novel, Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for, was written with respect for the military life and the local traditions and beliefs of all of those caught in the War in Afghanistan.

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for
Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for – New Contemporary Fiction by Patricia Furstenberg

Silent War Heroes page on my website contains part of the extensive knowledge I absorbed while researching for Silent Heroes as well as links to all my articles about the history of human-canine relationship and that of the military dogs. I hope you will stop by.

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Looking at Skulls in the Catacombs of Paris

Looking at Skulls in Paris Catacombes

Bones are the very last of our earthly traces and a proof of the existence of life itself. Bones symbolize that life is indestructible and they symbolize resurrection too (in Jewish tradition). Yet bones constantly remind us of our own mortality and of our feeble presence in this world.

Ahead of Halloween, I invite you to join me in a contemplation of death, life and immortality as we walk through the Catacombs of Paris.
And down we go. 20 meters underground.

A spiral staircase taking us 20 meters underground into the Catacombs of Paris
A spiral staircase taking us 20 meters underground into the Catacombs of Paris

This ossuary, containing the remains of millions of Parisians, is not what one might imagine, even after researching and viewing various images online.
A lifeless, gloomy, never-ending labyrinth. Life is suddenly a precious commodity here.
These pictures have not been altered.

A tunnel underground, Catacombs of Paris, where life is suddenly a precious commodity.
Life is suddenly a precious commodity here.

And even further we go. There is no turning back now…

The Catacombs of Paris, an underground labyrinth. No turning back now.
The Catacombs of Paris, an underground labyrinth. No turning back now.

The Catacombs of Paris are a time-travel place no one bargained for:

1876 stamped in a brick: , Catacombs of Paris officially opened to the public.
1876 stamped in a brick: , Catacombs of Paris officially opened to the public.

Feels like “Death lived there and none of them wanted to meet her that night.”

Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg
An endless pit in the Catacombs of Paris
Feels like “Death lived there and none of them wanted to meet her that night.” (Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg)

We are reminded that life goes on above the ground. Are we remembered, down here, underneath Rue Hallé?

A reminder that we are underneath Rue Hallé in the Catacombs of Paris.

The first wall of skulls and bones knocked the breath out of my lungs:

The first wall of skulls and bones in the Paris  Catacombs.

And then, this. Suddenly, a wind blasts through the Parisian Catacombs and I am chilled to the bone:

Skulls in the Parisian Catacombs

“whenever he would wake up cold and shivering, he would know he’d just felt death’s icy breath on his skin and that he escaped her again.”

Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg
Ils furent ce que nous sommes,
Poussière, jouet du vent; 
Fragiles comme des hommes. 
Faibles comme le néant. 
Paris Catacombs

“Ils furent ce que nous sommes,
Poussière, jouet du vent;
Fragiles comme des hommes.
Faibles comme le néant.”

(Lamartine)

“They were once as we are now,
Dust, trinkets in the wind;
As fragile as humankind.
As frail as the void.”

Human skull, close up - Paris Catacombs

Human bones are light ivory with a touch of brown, but when exposed to soil and natural pigments or minerals in the soil they change color.
I stand 1m 65cm tall. This mountain of human bones and skulls was at my eye level, nearly touching the ceiling of the Parisian Catacombs:

A mountain of human bones and skulls standing 1m 60cm high in the Catacombs of Paris

And further we go, quietly.

A cross in the Catacombs of Paris

Which way? Death is all around us. Overpowering.

Catacombs of Paris, a real maize

“his black robe swaying with every step like a death flag…”

Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg
A heart made out of skulls. Paris Catacombs
A heart of skulls to show the love for those departed.

It gets much darker than this:

A cross and three mounds of bones in the Paris Catacombs.

Memento Creatoris tui in diebus juventutis tuae… “Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth”

Ecclesiastes xii: 1

A forgotten anatomy lesson: a view inside the frontal and parietal bones:

Skull, view inside the frontaland parietal bones

The Catacombs are a never-ending maize. I need out.

towards exit. Paris Catacombs

“They followed on the stony path knowing it lead to a place where death ruled.”

Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg
A light shaft. Paris Catacombs
Light. Life.

Until we found the stairs going up, towards life, light and hope.

Exit, stairs going up, Paris Catacombs

Thank you for joying me.

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for, 5 stars reviews
Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for, 5 stars reviews
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War Dogs History after WW2 to the Fall of Berlin Wall

War Dogs History, WW2 to the Fall of Berlin Wall

Dogs have been man’s best friend from prehistorical times and they might have even helped the human brain evolve. Dogs joined kings in battles, proving indispensable so, one day, rigorous dog training began. Our beloved canines were amazing during WW1 in trenches, as ambulance and messenger dogs, and even as sled dogs. Lest we forget the amazing stories they were involved in during WW1, as cute mascots, military dogs made it into WW2 helping out the British, the Americans, with the first K-9 unit, and, with their unprejudiced hearts, the Germans and the Japanese. Did someone said paradogs? They are the flying dogs, indispensable during WW2.

After a military history that seemed to have snowballed between the Great War and the Second World War, what happened to these specially trained canine soldiers once dust settled over the Paris Peace Treaties?

Military Dogs during the Korean War

As there were still U.S. Army troops that remained in Korea after the end of WW2, due to the Cold War, they stayed put in the south after the Communist government was established in North Korea. Therefore more than one hundred U.S. military dogs were already stationed in Seoul at the outbreak of the Korean War on 25 June 1950.

Korean War - military dog and vet
Korean war – military dog and vet

The sentry dogs were quickly trained for combat situations. The the 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon was the U.S. dog sent unit to fight in Korea. Back home, the dogs were trained at the Army Dog Training Center at Fort Carson

“The 26th Infantry Scout Dog Platoon is cited for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services in direct support of combat operations in Korea during the period 12 June 1951 to 15 January 1953.

Korean War, General Orders Citation
Paradogs, parachuting dogs, Korean War
Paradogs, parachuting dogs, Korean War

Thoughts on deactivating the Army Dog Training Center at Fort Carson, in 1957:

“While fighting in Korea I was attacked and one of these dogs took over my attacker and I was able to recover my footing and escaped. Please reconsider.”

Frank Conanno, 1470 Third Street, West Babylon, N. Y.

“I am in the Army and was put into the scout dog platoon and trained dogs for nine months in the States and have had the same dog all the times. This dog STAR has saved my life and about twelve other men’s lives. I would like to know if there is any way that I could have him discharged the same time that I am. I would gladly pay the Government for the dog and take all the responsibility for him.
“I would appreciate it very much if you could help me in any way so I could take him home with me. This dog is not dangerous and would be suitable to civilian life.”

Cpl, Max Meyers, 26th Infantry, Scout Dog Platoon, APO #60 San Francisco, Calif.

At the end of he Korean War, some scout dogs were put on sentry duty at various Dog Platoons in the U.S.

Laika, first dog in space, 1957

Laika in training for Sputnik 2 mission. Source NASA
Laika in training for Sputnik 2 mission

Laika was he first dog in space, November 1957, on board of Sputnik 2, the second spacecraft launched into Earth orbit by the Soviet Union. Sadly, Laika survived for several orbits but died a few hours after the launch.
Laika was part husky or other Nordic breed, part terrier, once again proving that a brave heart is worth more than a pedigree.

The American press dubbed Laika Muttnik: mutt + suffix -nik

Military dogs during the Vietnam War

Below: two sniffer dogs that served in the Vietnam War, 1967, South Vietnam, with the 7th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. Justin is left, and Cassius is right, pictured here with Lance Corporal Thomas Douglas and Cpl. Norman Leslie. Cpl Blackhurst, a radio operator, was killed in action in April 1971 while calling in a helicopter for a medical evacuation. The helicopter crashed, killing L Cpl. Blackhurst, another officer on the ground, as well as the medic on board.

Two sniffer dogs, 1967, South Vietnam, 7th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. Justin, left, and Cassius,right, with Lance Corporal Thomas Douglas and Cpl. Norman Leslie. Cpl Blackhurst, a radio operator, was killed in action in April 1971 while calling in a helicopter for a medical evacuation. The helicopter crashed, killing L Cpl. Blackhurst, another officer on the ground, as well as the medic on board. Source Foreign Policy.
Two sniffer dogs, 1967, South Vietnam, 7th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. Justin, left, and Cassius,right, with Lance Corporal Thomas Douglas and Cpl. Norman Leslie. Cpl Blackhurst, a radio operator, was killed in action in April 1971 while calling in a helicopter for a medical evacuation. The helicopter crashed, killing L Cpl. Blackhurst, another officer on the ground, as well as the medic on board.

In Vietnam there was a specialized requirement for tunnel dogs to detect and explore the tunnels exploited by the Vietnam Cong (National Liberation Front). The tunnel dwellers feared the U.S. dogs and used tactics to confuse them. For example they washed with GI soap and covered air vents with shirts taken from Americans so the dogs’ sense of smell would not be alerted.

A solder looking distraught though while holding his puppy dearly. Source: history collection
1968, a soldier and his beloved pet.

Sadly, the war dogs deployed to Vietnam during that conflict, 1955 – 1975, were classified as “surplus equipment” and left behind, no matter what their human handler and buddies believed. When U.S. troops withdrew in 1973, most of the 4,000 U.S. military dogs on the ground there were deemed “surplus equipment,” and left behind. Some were given to South Vietnamese forces, while others were euthanized.

Vietnam - Memorial Honoring the War Dogs who served in the Vietnam Nam War. Many lost their lives. Many had to be left behind. Source Imgur
Vietnam – Memorial Honoring the War Dogs who served in the Vietnam War. Many lost their lives. Many had to be left behind.

The Prison Riot of 1996 and the first dog body armor

The Winnipeg prison riot of 1996 might not have made the international news, but the two days of horror have been enough for Jim Slater, a former dog handler for the Winnipeg police department, who adjusted a human flak jacket on his canine partner Olaf.

“He was out working ahead of our lines,” he says. “I realized it would be a bad way for him to go down, stabbed with a screwdriver.”

Jim Slater for Money.com

Orders for more bullet proof jackets for dogs soon began to pour from fellow canine officers.

Olaf with his human handler and friend, Jim Slater, who fashioned the first dog bullet-proof vest. Source Winnipeg Free Press
Olaf with his human handler and friend, Jim Slater, who fashioned the first dog bullet-proof vest. Source Winnipeg Free Press

Military Working Dogs in the Israeli Special Forces

Founded in 1939 as Hagana ( when canines were used for the security of Jewish villages threatened by their Arab neighbors), the Oketz Unit (Oketz is Hebrew for “sting”) is the independent canine special forces (sayeret) unit of the Israel Defense Forces. Initially, Oketz trained dogs to attack kidnappers, but today their dogs undergo specialized training: attack, tracking, sniffer dogs (especially ammunition and hidden explosives) and finding people in collapsed buildings.

Israel_Defense Forces -Oketz Unit Soldier Source Wikipedia
Israel_Defense Forces -Oketz Unit Soldier

The Oketz military base has a pet cemetery, the final resting place of over 60 four-legged recruits. A testimony to the increasingly significant role that dogs have come to play in the ranks of the military and of the never ending bond that forms between them and their human handlers.

IDF K-9 (Oketz) Fighting Dogs Cemetery
IDF K-9 (Oketz) Fighting Dogs Cemetery

Fighting terrorists or taking part in the Gaza-Israel conflict, when a Israeli military dog happens to be torn apart by a land mine he is officially registered as missing in combat. “Our troops train as one – man and dog... It’s less about you and more about you and the dog together, what you can do together.”

Israel - Fighters of Oketz Unit train with their four paw comrades  Source: Censor.net.ua
Israel – Fighters of Oketz Unit train with their four paw comrades Source: Censor.net.ua

“Since 2002, soldiers and dogs from Oketz have been able to prevent at least 200 suicide attacks in the central region”

Israeli officer says.
“Oketz” is a special forces unit where man and his best friend serve together.
“Oketz” is a special forces unit where man and his best friend serve together.

Unlike other combat troops in the IDF, Oketz soldiers carry three liters of water on them during operations – 1.5 liters for themselves and 1.5 liters for the dogs. (Source: The Jerusalem Post)

In 2017, India announced that it had bought 30 Oketz attack dogs, bomb sniffers and chasers from Israel because “the new four-legged recruits to the Special Protection Group are considered the best in the world in sniffing out explosive booby-traps.”

The Jerusalem Post

Bosnian War

“On numerous occasions and on numerous deployments I have seen battle-hardened men pouring affection on stray dogs that happen to frequent their bases, and often try to adopt them. I remember in Bosnia, in the deep snow of Mrkonič Grad where we were holed-up in an old, windy bus depot, there was a huge mongrel, clearly the alpha male, that used to lay in the snow permanently surveying his empire, confident that as each unit passed through on its 6-month rotation, someone would make sure that he was well looked after.”

Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman, British Army Blog

1989, the Berlin Wall comes down

Before 9 November  1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, the East German Communist Government used over 6000 dogs for patrol along the wall, known as “Wall Dogs”. A special breed was raised for this reason alone, DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) Shepherd: dogs that excelled in tracking, were athletic, tough, had excellent climbing abilities, and could withstand extreme physical conditions and demands.

A Wall Dog at the Berlin Wall
A Wall Dog at the Berlin Wall

These dogs were tied to a 5m long chain attached to a steel cable that ran approximately 100m in length along the Berlin Wall. Their life was tough, were treated with extreme cruelty. Barely fed every two days, they went through a (short) life with barely any human contact. They soon developed the “wall syndrome”: barking incessantly even when they could hardly stand. Some were killed when they could no longer perform their guard duty, some strangled themselves when their own leads got tangled.

Berlin Wall, guard dogs kept on wires. Source: Historic Approaches to Sonic Encounter at the Berlin Wall Memorial
Berlin Wall, guard dogs kept on wires, running within the “death strip”. Source: Historic Approaches to Sonic Encounter at the Berlin Wall Memorial

After the Wall came down and these guard dogs were no longer needed, they were mostly abandoned. The German Association for the Protection of Animals did everything they could to save as many Wall dogs as possible. Some say that the adopted Wall dogs, when approaching the area where the wall once stood, would

“move as if tethered to an unseen leash, with absolute certainty, following the old border along its zigzags through the city”.

Is one happy ending enough?

Between the Wall Dogs, whose difficult reputation made it difficult for them to be adopted, two German Shepherds, Juro and Betty, and a Schnauzer called Valco, were adopted in March 1990 by a family in Mallorca, Spain.

Wall Dogs adopted: Juro, left, is one of the Wall dogs rescued by a family from Mallorca. Source: Mallorca Magazin.
Wall Dogs adopted: Juro, left, is one of the Wall dogs rescued by a family from Mallorca. Source: Mallorca Magazin.

The history of Military Working Dogs, or War Dogs, is long and sad. Have humankind learned anything from these amazing souls, who give unconditionally, forget and always offer second chances?

Next post: MWDs encountered in the Gulf War, Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan. Do return for some amazing images and more canine history.

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Read the opening pages of Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

The simplest way to enjoy coffee? Pair it with an interesting book.

‘Although this is a work of fiction there are truths to it that will tug at your heart. For anyone who has not read one of Patricia’s books then I would recommend this one. ‘ Mandie Griffiths, Book Reviewer

‘Wisdom is threaded throughout Silent Heroes. This novel is an intense, evocative and heart-wrenching narrative of destruction and hope. There is a philosophical exploration of the fragility of human life and the consequences of power struggles.’ Amazon Reader

‘I recommend that if you are unfamiliar with why and how the young men and women of our armies are involved in this conflict, that you read Silent Heroes.’ Sally Cronin, Author, Goodreads Review

Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting For, is the new novel by Patricia Furstenberg, the author of Amazon Bestseller Joyful Trouble.

How far would you go to save strangers in need? Military Dogs risk their life for their humans in a heartbeat, but can soldiers do the same when personal struggles and global affairs defy humanity?
When Taliban raids an Afghan village and discovers that girls can read, a woman accepts the blame to save the community. Her teenage daughter witnesses the sacrifice swearing revenge, her own life and that of her brother becoming intertwined with those of the Marines serving at a nearby military base.
Led by Captain Marcos who conceals, under a cool appearance, his lifelong disability to read human emotions, the solid team of soldiers is faced with the trauma of losing platoon-mates, both human and canine, with PTSD and with becoming estranged from families left behind.
When the Marines are instructed to accept a mysterious young Afghan as their guide the humanity of local population they come in contact with raises questions about the necessity of war. It is a race against time, fending off the Taliban lurking at the ancient Qala-e-Bost fortress and defending Bost Airport, a vital strategic point for the allies, while saving the kidnapped civilians at the same time.

Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting For

“They’re coming!” are the words synonym with death.

The war cry sweeps along the eastern snowy slope of Hindu Kush Mountains in an avalanche of hoofs. It conquers the empty streets of our village amplified by dark, bearded men waving Kalashnikovs above their heads, thirsty for blood.

Those who have heard it before know it brings terror and death. Those who have met them before remember the reek of slaughter that seeps through their long robes, the wild beards that swell from underneath their flat hats, pakols, revealing gap-toothed jaws. Even those too young to comprehend, the tots born after the last grown men of our village left for war, shrink from their sight.

The Taliban soldiers breeding in our mountains.

Their sulphur stench yanks us, women and children, from behind the fake safety of mud walls. It is execution time again.

A young woman stood in the door frame of a modest hut, holding herself tall in an attempt to shield her young brother who, transfixed, watched as a cloud of menacing smoke tumbled along the mountain slope, thundering and calling “Allāhu akbar”, “Allah is great.” The same praise women sang, with tear-stained eyes, whenever a healthy new-born arrived into their world.

Her mother still called her ‘girl’, although she already passed the threshold to womanhood. But a girl would still fit in her mother’s arms where she would be protected. A girl would not be expected to obey and cover herself with a burqa and a girl would not be forced to cease her learning because she is over a certain age.

A second woman, with eagle eyes and a guarded attitude, materialized behind. Adjusting her hijab over her head she kept to the shadows, yanking the young one inside. Only her hooded, dark brown eyes spoke. There was distress in them and a prophecy, words no one was allowed to hear.

Between their skirts, a skinny boy of eight moved along. The girl, Emma Dil, meaning ‘Dil ki khawahish’, ‘Heart’s Wish’, was thus named to illustrate her father’s pride in having a girl as their firstborn, instead of a boy. His heart’s wish. The same honour had glinted in their mother’s eyes the night their father decided to join the fight against the Afghan insurgents in the never-ending war versus Taliban; even knowing it might cost them his life.

“Come, my heart, inside. It has to be done. We must hurry, hurry,” the second woman said, her voice in check, yet Emma Dil’s strung nerves picked the rise in pitch, its agony and anguish. The mother pulled Emma indoors bolting the door, sealing out most of the light. A gleam of steel in the mother’s right hand caught the last of the sunshine. Hugging her daughter one last time the mother pulled the little boy between them, her free hand soft and warm on Emma’s wet cheek. The girl filled her lungs with the familiar scent of faded rose petals she had associated with love and safety all her life, knowing it was the last time she will. The three of them lingered in their embrace, the girl holding her breath, willing time to stop. Yet three heartbeats later the mother pulled away.

“Rafik, my clever boy, my pride, take your flying legs and run like the wind to the neighbouring village. Warn them,” her eyes urged him, “they’ve come again.” Her work-worn hand lingered on his face, cupping his childish cheek one more time. His eyes gleamed, his body all wired up, ready to please, yet his mother’s hand stayed on his face, drawing him closer for one more kiss. The woman pulled him near her chest while urging him to go at the same time, “run, child, run!”

When he was out through the back door the woman turned dead eyes towards the girl, scissors at the ready. “Swear, my girl. No one must ever find out.”

As a culmination of each one of their raids, the Taliban troops would round us all in the dusty centre of the village, my brother and I always trying to obstruct our mother’s presence. But today it is only me so I try to square my shoulders.

My aunt and her three daughters nestled themselves against us, eyes cast down, the young ones shaking like leaves, counting their heartbeats, “One – alive. Two – alive. Three – alive;” the small one wetting herself.

I never understood why we were held at gunpoint by men speaking the same language, only crazed for power, thirsty to kill in the name of Islam. Throwing menacing looks, their black eyes, heavily creased, glaring from behind filthy headdresses that would come up to cover their faces as soon as they entered the village.

Mother said such questions were not to be uttered, maybe, just maybe, raised in the back of my mind when I was alone in our bedchamber.

Then their leader would arrive, dressed in black pants and a black, long shirt, the traditional shalwar kameez. Wickedness personified.

“Allah is great!” they’d all yell. “May Allah give Davron a long life,” they’d welcome him. It is a call for joy. It is also a call to sentence us, innocent or not.

This time they found enough proof to kill another one of us, all in the name of Islam. A law had been broken by a child. Or a woman. Their bloodlust and fanaticism in reinforcing their dominance over us know no limits. To them, the Islam law stands above human life.

In the middle of dirt, in front of us all, lands a tattered book. A small cloud of dust rises as the book touches the ground. Its pages open by themselves to the part most enjoyed, a line drawing of a world map. In its middle someone had penned, in blue ink, a little star. It marks Afghanistan’s place on the map. The small star on a two-page chart shows how big it is, the world we are all a part of. So promising, this big world. A world I often dreamed of. A world that knows nothing of us.

The man dressed in black, the one they call Commander Davron, has a scar along his left cheek.

Once I asked mom if she thinks he was chosen as their leader because he is the ugliest man on earth. She watched me, amazed, then laughed so hard as I’ve never seen her laugh before. When she was done she wiped her eyes, hugged me, and asked me to never say those words again. But that she thinks I was right and that I had a brilliant intellect, and I must never forget that.

Their leader kicks the book with the tip of his stained shoe then tramps past us all, hands behind his back, his eyes boring into our souls even as we look down at our feet. His stench turns my stomach.

From the corner of my eye, I watch the book flying like a wounded bird, landing a few feet away, face down. A page is bent and my book-lover self winces.

He strides back, his black robe swaying with every step like a death flag, his beard nodding disapprovingly like it’s got a mind of its own. Halting near us he toots his lips and turns his head sideways, listening, making a show out of it.

A trickle of water echoes nearby. To the right, my little niece has wet herself again. Commander Davron’s mouth twists in a smile, yet his eyes frown. He bends forward, his beard almost touching her cheek, hot and wet, lined with dust. Her small hands are pressed against her mouth in a desperate attempt to keep any noise inside. I freeze. There is an ink stain on her index finger. The bearded leader pretends not to notice, but as he turns towards the rest of us his hand, as sharp as an eagle’s beak, fastens on the girl’s fragile wrist pulling it forward. She collapses near the book, her knees scraping the dust, her shoulder nearly dislocated. She lets out a sharp scream. He still holds her wrist.

“Proof! Again!” he bellows. “Islam’s sacred law had been broken! AGAIN! Girls, that read AND write?”

Should his shouts be visible, they would be a whip reaching each one of us, extracting any hope out of our hearts.

I grab my mother’s hand, willing her to stand behind. But it is too late. She would never witness one of the girls tortured. I feel my heart ripped from my chest as mother throws herself in the sand at the feet of Commander Davron, her arm protecting the little girl.

“Please,” she sobs through her burqa, “let her go. In the name of Allah, it is my fault, only mine.”

His tongue slithers over his bottom lip, like a snake pushing out of his hideout, and he lets go of the girl’s wrist turning, with greedy eyes, towards my mother.

“Take off your burqa,” he orders her.

All the women gasp. The law of Islam orders women to stay covered in front of any men outside their immediate family.

“I want to know who broke Islam’s holy law.”

If she shows her face, she will break a law; a different law, by Taliban’s standards.

My ears ring and tears burn my eyes, yet I dug my nails into my wrists, behind my back. I promised mother not to tell.

Not to tell a soul.

My knees shake underneath my father’s dark robe and a trickle of sweat rolls down my neck, escaping my short hair and my manly headdress, also my father’s. The tiny hairs stuck to my neck after mom’s hasty haircut itch, but not as much as my tongue. I want to yell the truth, but I promised.

The dark Commander turns towards me.

“You have a boy, I see. Almost a man. He doesn’t need his mother anymore. Take off your burqa.”

A guttural wail escapes my mother as she removes her headdress and face covers in front of Commander Davron and his army.

She had just sentenced herself.

They cheer in the name of Allah, crazed at the thought of another kill.

“This woman broke two of His sacred laws!” he bellows. “No girl over the age of eight is to learn to read or write, yet this woman taught reading and writing. And she has removed her face cover in the absence of her husband and in front of strange men! If you want lessons to learn, I’ll teach you lessons!”

His army cheers and they empty their guns towards the Heavens.

By the time he is done speaking our brave mother lays dead in the dirt, a bullet through her brain. Her open eyes are fixed on the book, yet she can’t see it anymore. All because she was willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice to save us. Her face is as beautiful as ever and I want to kneel and cradle her, but I cannot, I am a boy now and I promised not to tell.

Perched on a nearby eave, a purple sunbird watches us and my heart warms to her. Its lapis lazuli plumage is my mother’s favourite colour. I remember mother telling us an old Egyptian belief. When a person dies, a bird is sent from Heavens to escort its spirit home.

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for

Buy Silent Heroes from Amazon, available in Kindle format, paperback and large print.

Silent Heroes

Buy Silent Heroes in Large Print: Amazon UK , Amazon US , Amazon Canada

Silent Heroes, Large Print Edition
Silent Heroes, Large Print Edition
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Fastest Route to Mona Lisa, Louvre, Paris

the fastest route to Mona Lisa, Louvre Museum

It is possible to see the Mona Lisa with (almost) no one else around. The fastest way, the quickest way to see the Mona Lisa (Gioconda, or LA JOCONDE as the French name her) by Leonardo da Vinci and located in the 1st floor, DENON wing, room 711 / room 8: “LA JOCONDE” in the Louvre Museum, Paris, is shared here, step by step.

With a bit of planning and following these steps, if you wish, you can enjoy your one minute of fame, alone with the Mona Lisa. Then visit the Louvre Museum at your leisure.

Fastest way to the Mona Lisa:

  1. Buy an online ticket for the Louvre Museum for the 9:00am time slot.
  2. Be at the Pyramid, main entrance, at 8:30am.
  3. Choose the GREEN entrance line for e-ticket holders.
  4. You will enter the Louvre through the Glass Pyramid (ground floor). Escalator takes you down (lower ground floor).
  5. You will see Information Desk / Information “Musee du Louvre” in front of you. Turn right. Go up the first escalator. (You travel from lower ground floor to ground floor).
  6. You will see the signs for DENON wing in front of you. Go right. Take the lift ahead of you. Go up to 1st floor – elevator panel is marked with “La Joconde”.
  7. Out of the elevator, ahead of you, there will be a long hallway with artwork. Look for the signs towards “La Joconde”. Well marked.
  8. Enter room 711 (or room 8), also known as Salle des États. You are in a small antechamber with paintings.
  9. There are two doors ahead, left and right. Go further through one of them.
  10. You will enter a very big space. Ahead you will see the biggest painting in the Louvre, The Wedding Feast at Cana. Turn sideways to face the wooden barrier and see The Mona Lisa, La Joconde, La Gioconda, the Great Lady of the Louvre.

1. Buy an online ticket for the Louvre Museum for the 9:00 am time slot

You can buy your ticket from the Louvre website here. Best a few days in advance. Choose the top option: Individual tickets for the Museum. The cost is 17,00 € per person (2019) – as opposed to 15,00 € if you buy at the Louvre – and, choosing the 9:00am time slot, it will guarantee you entry in the Louvre as soon as it opens – which is:

Musée du Louvre opening hours
Monday: 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
Tuesday: Closed.
Wednesday: 9 a.m.–9:45 p.m.
Thursday: 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
Friday: 9 a.m.–9:45 p.m. 
Saturday: 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
Sunday: 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
On the first Saturday of each month, the museum is also open from 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. and admission is free for all visitors.
Rooms begin closing at 5:30 p.m., and at 9:30 p.m. on night openings.

Louvre Museum opening hours

Note: Free admission with no ticket (it will NOT guarantee you entry at 9:00am) for: under-18s, under-26s living in the European Economic Area, people with disabilities and the person accompanying them (these DO enter first), and people on income support. On presentation of proof of eligibility, full list on  Louvre.fr

2. Be at the Pyramid, main entrance, at 8:30am.

Louvre Museum, Pyramid Entrance - fastest route to see Mona Lisa
Louvre Museum, Pyramid Entrance – fastest route to see Mona Lisa

You might see him:

Military Dogs at Louvre Museum - fastest route to see the Mon Lisa
Military Dogs at Louvre Museum

3. Choose the GREEN entrance line for e-ticket holders.

Green line - tickets with time slot reservation
Green line – tickets with time slot reservation

4. You will enter the Louvre through the Glass Pyramid (ground floor). Escalator takes you down (lower ground floor).

The Glass Pyramid was designed by IM Pei and inaugurated on 1st April 1989!

Louvre Museum, Glass Pyramid detail
Louvre Museum, Glass Pyramid detail
Louvre Museum. Glass Pyramid - down the escalator (ground floor- lower level) - fastest route to see the Mona Lisa
Louvre Museum. Glass Pyramid – down the escalator (ground floor- lower level)

5. You will see Information Desk / Information “Musee du Louvre” in front of you. Turn right. Go up the first escalator. (You travel from lower ground floor to ground floor).

Information desk on lower level, Louvre Museum
Information desk on lower level, Louvre Museum
Turn right. Go up the first escalator. (You travel from lower  ground floor to ground floor). Fastest route to see the Mona Lisa
Turn right. Go up the first escalator. (You travel from lower ground floor to ground floor).

Same image, from a higher point:

Go up the first escalator. (You travel from lower  ground floor to ground floor) - upper view. Fastest route to see the Mona Lisa
Go up the first escalator. (You travel from lower ground floor to ground floor) – upper view.

6. You will see the signs for DENON wing in front of you. Go right. Take the lift ahead of you. Go up to 1st floor – elevator panel is marked with “La Joconde”.

Signs that you have reached the DENON wing - fastest route to see the Mona Lisa
Signs that you have reached the DENON wing

Take the elevator ahead of you – sorry about the blurred image, we were in a hurryyyyyy 🙂

The elevator in Denon wing taking you to La Joconde - Mona Lisa, fastest route
the elevator in Denon wing taking you to La Joconde

The road to La Joconde, the Mona Lisa, is very well marked:

signs leading to La Joconde Mona Lisa - fastest route
signs pointing you to La Joconde, Mona Lisa

7. Out of the elevator, ahead of you, there will be a long hallway with artwork. Look for the signs towards “La Joconde”. Well marked.

You will first reach Salon Denon. You want to walk through the door that is opposite the windows.

Salon Denon - the big windows. Use the door opposite. Fastest route to Mona Lisa
Salon Denon – the big windows. Use the door opposite
Salon Denon - go through this door to Mona Lisa - fastest route
Salon Denon – go through this door to Mona Lisa

8. Enter room 711 (or room 8), also known as Salle des États . You are in a small antechamber with paintings:

You enter Room 711 (room 8) of the Louvre Museum, Denon Wing, where the Mona Lisa is located. Fastest route to see the Mona Lisa.
You enter Room 711 (room 8) of the Louvre Museum, Denon Wing, where the Mona Lisa is located.
where to find Mona Lisa in the Louvre
where to find Mona Lisa in the Louvre

9. There are two doors ahead, left and right. Go further through one of them.

On the far wall you see The Wedding Feats at Cana by Veronese, depicting Jesus’ miracles, the biggest painting in the Louvre. Left and right is the exit towards the Grande Gallery.

room 711, Denon wing, Louvre Museum, Mona Lisa is behind this wall. Fastest route.
room 711, Denon wing, Louvre Museum, Mona Lisa is behind this wall

10. You will enter an very big space. Ahead you will see the biggest painting in the Louvre, The Wedding Feast at Cana. Turn sideways to face the wooden barrier and see The Mona Lisa, La Joconde, La Gioconda, the Great Lady of the Louvre.

Mona Lisa. La Joconda. La Gioconda, Denon Wing, room 711, Louvre Museum, fastest route
Mona Lisa. La Joconda. La Gioconda
Salle des États -Salle_de_la_Joconde_-_Musée_du_Louvre_-_large.jpg
Salle des Etats – Mona Lisa seen from the opposite wall, where the painting of The Wedding Feast at Cana hangs.

Going out from room 711, using the exit near the painting of The wedding Feast at Cana, you will get here. If you stand in Grande Gallery, the statue of Artemis marks the door to the room 711, where La Joconde is. (At least when we visited, it did): see the entrance on the right?

Artemis statue in Louvre, in the Grande Galerie, in front of La Joconde room - 711
Artemis statue in Louvre, in the Grande Gallery, in front of La Joconde room – 711

This plan of 1st floor Louvre Museum might help:

Did you know that some say Mona Lisa was a rich Florentine business woman, Leonardo da Vinci’s neighbor. Some say she was his mother. Some say it is a well disguised self-portrait or the portrait of da Vinci’s secret lover. Some even say it is the portrait of the only girl da Vinci was ever in love with.

Certain is that Mona LIsa is one of the Three Ladies of the Louvre, together with Venus de Milo and Nike, The Winged Victory of Samothrace.

the Three Ladies of the Louvre: Mona LIsa, Venus de Milo and Nike,  The Winged Victory of Samothrace.
the Three Ladies of the Louvre: Mona LIsa, Venus de Milo and Nike, The Winged Victory of Samothrace.

Mona Lisa was one of the period’s largest portraits, painted on a single, very thin (12 mm) poplar board.
It reflects Renaissance interest in Platonic theory, when the beauty of the body was seen as that of the soul.
It is not an ostentatious image of a rich bourgeoisie lady: through pose and attire and the absence of eyelashes and eyebrows (in line with the fashion).
Gioconda, in Italian, it means happiness.

NEW: Meeting the ‘Mona Lisa’ for an Intimate (Virtual) Rendezvous

Visitors to the Louvre will experience Leonardo da Vinci’s world through a virtual-reality tour that brings them closer to the masterpiece than ever before. Read more here.

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