The Engineer Military Working Dog has a long history of dedicated service and the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have proved that time and time again. Perhaps the most famous leader of the wars General David H. Petraeus had this to say of them, “The capability they (Military Working Dogs) bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine. By all measures of performance their yield outperforms any asset we have in our inventory. Our Army (and military) would be remiss if we failed to invest more in this incredibly valuable resource.” He demonstrated this admiration by summarily promoting SSG Perkins Specialized Search Dog (SSD) Rain to Command Sergeant Major following a successful mission during a patrol in Iraq (typically a Canine holds a rank of one higher than its handler). This was only one of innumerable successful missions for the Engineer Canine and in the remainder of this article I will attempt to give a brief glimpse into their recent history, capabilities and the history of the company they belong to, the Engineer Canine Company.
The Engineer Canine Company, 5th Engineer Battalion is comprised of the 49th, 67th, and 94th Engineer Detachments (Canine). The Engineer Canine program was established in October 2004 as the 67th EN Detachment (Canine). Originally, the detachment was solely comprised of Mine Detection Dogs (MDD), a tool to reduce the risk of landmines, UXO, and other casualty-producing devices on the battlefield. The Mine Detection Dog concept was modeled after a similar program used by the British Armed Forces. After the proven success of U.S. Mine Detection Dogs in Afghanistan, and as new threats emerged , the program adopted another type of detection dog from the British Military, the Specialized Search Dog (SSD). The Specialized Search Dog demonstrated its capability in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In light of the growing need of both Mine Detection Dogs and Specialized Search Dogs in support of the Global War on Terrorism, two more detachments were activated in October 2005, the 49th and the 94th Engineer Detachments. Currently the 49th Engineer Detachment supports all Mine Detection Dog Operations while the 67th and the 94th Detachments support all Engineer Specialized Search Dog Operations for the United States Army. From the inception of the pilot program in 2003 until present, Engineer Canine Soldiers have been constantly deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan to support area clearance, route clearance, and casualty extraction missions for Engineers, Infantry, Field Artillery, Special Forces, and Marines alike.
Perhaps the best way to compare the two types of dogs Engineers use would be the old nursery rhyme “The Tortoise and the Hare.” In the case of Military Working Dogs, the Mine Detection Dog is the tortoise, they are slow and steady, but with that they are very thorough as is necessary when you are trying to reduce the type of casualty producing devices they are trained for. That would then leave the Specialized Search Dog as the hare of the two. He is the fast dog, but unlike in the story, he is certainly not lazy. For his particular job, he needs to be speedy and hard working as he searches large areas for devices often over a period of hours or even days. Another significant difference in the two is that the MDD works on a leash. It is necessary for the handler to be able to control the dog to work in the patterns necessary to clear an area of mines or other unexploded ordnance. SSDs work off leash as they are searching larger areas for almost anything with explosives residue in shorter amounts of time.
Some final words also need to be written about exactly what types of dogs these particular Military Working Dogs are. Unlike many other MWDs, the Engineer Canine is only sometimes a German Shepherd (the standard for other types of MWD), and they are never trained to bite or attack. This is not necessary for them to perform their duties, and this results in other types of dogs, such as the Labrador, oftentimes being better suited for this particular type of work. It is also results in gentle, loving dogs, who, though certainly not ever allowed to be pets while working, are well accepted by society. They are so well accepted that is rare for the older working dogs to not be adopted by their handler once the dog retires. And during their hard earned retirement, they get to do the same thing we do in retirement. That being whatever they want. And most times all they want is to be the pet they never were able to be and to finally be, instead of simply their handler’s partner and protector, Man’s Best Friend.