Canine Units in Afghanistan Issued New Protective VestsBy Spc. Cheryl Ransford, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Feb. 25, 2005 -- When canine handlers of the 25th Military Police Company conduct extraction missions and area searches in Afghanistan, their highly trained dogs often serve as the main tool for finding weapons and people in hiding.
To counteract the added dangers these dogs face in the line of duty, their ballistic vest equipment has been upgraded.
"These new vests are an upgrade from the current vests the dogs have been using," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Thomas, assistant kennel master for the 25th MP Co. "Before, the vests were only stab proof, which worked well for missions in the states. However, with the additional dangers these dogs are facing during this deployment, they are now wearing vests that are not only stab proof, but also bullet proof."
Although the new vests are slightly heavier than the vests the dogs previously used, neither their mobility nor their mission has been hindered by their use. "When the dogs are conducting missions that require them to use the new vests, they are in areas that could possibly cause them to be injured or killed," said Thomas. "They are the first one into the area looking for people or weapons. They help us find the things we can't see."
The vests are currently being used by the K-9 units at Bagram Air Base and Kandahar Airfield, said Sgt. 1st Class Erika Gordon, kennel master for the 25th MP Co. "Even though we only have a few vests at the moment, we are working to get vests for every dog in Afghanistan," she said. "These vests are the dogs' only means of protection. They go in before their handler. It is a matter of 'get them before they get you.' That's why these vests are so important."
The vests are also able to carry all of the dogs' gear, which includes heating or cooling packs. "These vests make us more versatile in what we can do with the dogs," said Gordon.
"Many people may say, 'They're just dogs, why do they need that kind of equipment?' But these dogs are a part of a team and need to be protected just as much as every member of every other team in country," said Thomas.
"These dogs are our partners," he said. "We travel with them, sleep with them and live with them. They are our best friends. Every dog handler will agree that there is nothing we won't do to protect our dogs."
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