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Military working dog handlers: Abu Ghraib military police have passion for their unique trade

Multi-National Force-Iraq

By Spc. Jeremy D. Crisp
Multi-National Corps - Iraq Public Affairs

CAMP ABU GHRAIB, Iraq — They say it is a labor of love. That's why they do it. Not for ascension through the ranks, not for the glamour, but because they love doing what they do. They are the K-9 troops of the Abu Ghraib detention facility, and being military working-dog handlers is their passion.

The Soldiers and Sailors of the Abu Ghraib K-9 unit are military policemen trained specifically to handle and care for their four-legged friends. The teams provide narcotics, contraband, and explosive detection while also acting as a visual deterrence to detainees at Abu Ghraib.

The Abu Ghraib kennel master charged with ensuring the welfare of the handlers — along with the four dogs in the kennel — is Staff Sgt. Chad O. Jones with the 529th Military Police Company, 95th MP Battalion, Heidelberg, Germany.

Jones' partner Bo is a 100-pound Belgium Malinois trained specifically in narcotics and contraband detection. He and Bo have been working, eating and sleeping in the same quarters for one year-and-a-half, and Jones wouldn't trade his job for anything in the world, he said.

“I've always had a soft spot for dogs,” Jones said. “Being a dog handler, you have to have a love for your job.”

If someone doesn't have a passion for being a dog handler, they “just shouldn't do it,” Jones said, adding that when the opportunity for him to go to school to be a dog handler came up, he jumped at the chance.

Jones and fellow handlers were required to attend a three-month Department of Defense school before being qualified to be military working dog handlers.

“We learned the fundamentals of control training for the dog, along with the fundamentals of detection.” Jones said.

The service members also learned all aspects of caring for the dog, including its health needs, Jones said.

“We're our dog's parents,” Jones said. “I'm the one that makes sure he goes to the bathroom, he's fed every day, he's got water, he's bathed and combed. I even take him to the vet to get his teeth brushed.”

Along with caring for and working with the dogs, the troops are mandated by the military to put in a minimum amount of training each week with the dogs.

“We have to do a minimum of four hours a week with our dog just to keep him baseline proficient,” Jones said. Just putting in that four hours isn't enough, he said. “We put hours and hours of time on top of what we are required to train with these dogs.”

The welfare of the dog is paramount when conducting training said Sgt. Craig T. Lawyer, a military working dog handler with the 272nd MP Co., 95th MP Bn. The heat in Iraq can cause a lot of problems for the dogs on patrols, he said.

“It doesn't take much for the dogs to get overheated when it's 110 or 120 degrees outside,” Lawyer said. “We just make sure we keep them cool and hydrated.”

All the training is put to use on a daily basis for the handlers and their dogs. The teams conduct patrols throughout the detention facility and provide prisoner escorts to deter insubordination among inmates. They also perform sweeps of the prisoner housing areas, searching for anything out of the ordinary.

Working day in and day out together, both handler and dog inevitably create a bond together. The bond Jones and Bo built almost came to a crashing halt in an April terrorist attack on Camp Abu Ghraib.

Mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and small-arms fire rocked the foundation of Bo's home. All that stood between Bo and safety was a locked plywood door.

“He just dug in and rammed the door until it came open,” Jones said. Bo was seen running around the compound that day, but he couldn't be corralled, and then all sight of him was lost.

The hours rolled by, and there was no sight of Bo. “After 24 hours, I thought he was dead,” Jones said.

Two days after the attack, Jones' hope for finding his companion was waning.

“I felt like I lost my son,” Jones said.

On the third day, a Marine found Bo lying in an unused room on the camp. Alive, but unresponsive and bleeding, Bo was taken to the International Zone in Baghdad for treatment. He is still a little tender from his escape during the attack, Jones said.

“We were worried that he would be traumatized by all the gunfire and mortar rounds hitting so close, like a human getting shell-shocked,” Jones said. “But once the injuries and the pain were gone, he was back to his normal self.”

Bo is now back to full strength, healthy and training. He is able to conduct his normal patrols and training exercises, and he shows no sign of slowing down.

As Jones and Bo's time in Iraq nears its end, Jones reflected back. “Time has flown by,” he said. Thanks to his labor of love, Jones' time in Iraq was a little easier, he said.

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