Perhaps it was my medical training, but I enjoyed learning about Camp Bastion (later Camp Shorabak), British Army Base and state of the art medical facility and the largest military camp built overseas after World War II. The camp started in 2005 with just a few tents as a Tactical Landing Zone set up by two Royal Air Force Traffic Controllers. They were looking for a safe place to fly supplies for the troops who were to be sent to the southern province of Helmand, Afghanistan.
The camp’s first runway, operational in 2007, was capable of landing C-17’s direct from the United Kingdom. In 2011, the camp’s airfield and heliport handled up to 600 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft movements every day for combat, medical and logistics flights. A helicopter from Bastion could reach an injured soldier in less than 19 minutes. The most serious cases could be sent to the UK in less than 24 hours.
‘By the MEDEVAC helicopter, two figures in commando uniform strode towards the four Marines clustered around Tommy, carrying a collapsible stretcher. The MEDEVAC medic introduces herself as Corporal Bethany Welsh with the Camp Bastion’s Joint Forces Medical Group.’
Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Camp Bastion housed 30 000 people and it even had its own Pizza Hut. The US Marines were housed in the area called Camp Leatherneck. Afghan security forces had their own compound, Camp Shorabak.
True to the historical facts, even Prince Harry makes a blitz apparition in Silent Heroes.
Camp Bastion’s Hospital (operational until 22 September 2014) was operated by (are you ready?) personnel of the British Army, Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force of the Joint Force Medical Group and medical assets from the US Army. Their medical staff included Orthopaedic Surgeons, General Surgeons, Anaesthetists, Nurses and Medics. At Camp Bation’s Hospital were brought all the wounded military personnel from the British, US and other Nato-led security missions, ISAF, fighting in Helmand Province. This was the main place for treatment; from here they were further evacuated to the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. Of course, Afghan nationals were also treated at Camp Bastion’s Hospital, including the victims of accidental injuries and road traffic collisions – simply because Afghan state hospital had very little (if any) supplies and medics.
It is here that Rafik arrives in his journey through Silent Heroes, at Camp Bastion. Was he scared? Was he hurt? Will he make it further?
‘It was during this time that the British Army, part of IASF, built the first tents of what was to become Camp Bastion, Field Hospital, and MTF, Medical Treatment Facility, Helmand Territory, Southern Afghanistan. The first medical outpost was a tented construction, much like a scene out of M.A.S.H., minus Captain Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce mixing his very, very dry martinis, plus plenty of military and civilian casualties. It soon morphed into the most famous and busiest trauma hospital in the world. Nearly thirty thousand people, Marines, British soldiers, medical personnel and contractors were confined to an eight square miles area, a world completely separated from the country around them.’
Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
‘The room went on and on as the boy began to glide. His entire village could fit inside this colossal building, Rafik thought, his eyes darting around, his ears pounding with the beats of his own heart. The air had an acidic undertone and it soon made his nose dry, his tongue sticking to his cheeks. Along the walls, he noticed pictures with signs and lots of words. The largest one, green like the grass with four big bold white letters and the picture of a man running, he could read that one. His stomach fluttered. It said “exit”. That was the only sign he could read. Here and there paper pictures of smiling people and beautiful gardens. And light, lots of light inside, pouring through long rectangle-shaped windows in the ceiling.’
Rafik will journey further through Silent Heroes, past Camp Bastion. Where will the war carry him next, a child of only eight years old, like a leaf caught in a desert sandstorm? Come back to find out. Soon…
Saving human lives during military conflicts takes first stage. Welcome to some amazing stories about Military Working Dogs involved in the Gulf, Iraq & Afghanistan 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.
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
Some soldiers even used their military operational bonus to buy the dog that served with them.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
The world record for highest man-dog parachutejump
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.
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.
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.
MWDs in the War in Afghanistan
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 orexplosives – 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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When a military dog dies…
The dog that dies in combat is honored by the squad during a tribute ceremony. A poem, titled “Guardians of the Night” by an anonymous author, is read.
“Trust in me my friend for I am your comrade.
I will protect you with my last breath. When all others have left you
And the loneliness of the night closes in, I will be at your side …
When our time together is done and you move on in the world,
Remember me with kind thoughts and tales.
For a time we were unbeatable,
Nothing passed among us undetected.”
“Guardians of the Night” by Anonymous
Doggles – goggles for dogs!
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.
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.