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Military

IED Conference spotlights 'mine dogs'

By Phil Manson

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Army News Service, Aug. 25, 2005) – One of the more promising developments discussed at the Warfighter IED Conference, Aug. 16-17, was the use of mine dogs to defeat improvised explosive devices.

Jim Pettite, mine dog program manager for the 67th Engineer Detachment, explained how the program works to about 100 conference attendees at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

“The mine dog program involves four months of rigorous training by both the Soldier and the dog,” Pettite said. “We use ‘family friendly’ dog breeds – black labs and golden retrievers - because they are less threatening to civilians than German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers.

“The dogs work what is known as ‘off leash,’ which means they are actually on a leash, but it is several yards long so the dog is safely out in front of its handler.”

The dogs are trained to detect many different types of explosives and ammunition, and Pettite said, to the dogs, it’s all a big game.

“From the very beginning, the dogs are trained to believe that finding IEDs is a big game,” said Staff Sgt. Harry Francorabassa, a mine-dog handler with the 67th Engineer Detachment.

“We can train three dogs simultaneously in a 50 by 50 meter area, and when they detect an IED successfully, they get to play with their special toy that is introduced to them at the beginning of training,” Francorabassa explained. “Find the bomb, play with your toy! It’s all a big game for the dogs.”

However, in theater it’s a deadly serious business for the dogs and their Soldiers.

“It’s a very hot environment for the dogs,” Pettite said. “During a typical workday, the dogs are given frequent breaks, rest and sleep in air-conditioned kennels and eat a special diet. Also, the dog teams rotate out of theater every eight months to keep them fresh mentally and physically. They return here to Fort Leonard Wood and we repeat the training process for their next deployment.

By the end of August, there will be dozens of fully trained dog teams. And as a testament to their effectiveness, not a single dog or handler has become a casualty. Many of the insurgents, though, have placed bounties on the dogs and their handlers.

In the conference’s closing remarks, First Army Commander Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré stressed how much of a difference junior leaders can make in defeating the IED threat.

“Never before have the actions of our junior leaders on the battlefield had such a dramatic effect on the strategic outcome of the battle,” Honoré said.

“Everyone is a sensor in the IED fight to detect, deter, defeat, prevent and respond to the threat!” Honoré said.

(Editor's note: Phil Manson serves with First U.S. Army Public Affairs.)



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