War dogs, the unsung heroes of combat (Video)

U.S. Marine Cpl. Sharadan Reetz (left), and Lance Cpl. Jarrett Hatley rest next to Blue, an improvised explosive device detection dog, after clearing compounds with Afghan National Army soldiers during Operation Winter Offensive.
U.S. Marine Cpl. Sharadan Reetz (left), and Lance Cpl. Jarrett Hatley rest next to Blue, an improvised explosive device detection dog, after clearing compounds with Afghan National Army soldiers during Operation Winter Offensive. Photo by Cpl. Reece Lodder

They are fiercely loyal and have a desire to please their handlers. They will protect Marines and attack agitators without warning. They are the Military Working Dogs (MWDs) of the Corps, also known as “war dogs.” Their duties include searching for explosives, booby-trapped houses and identifying personnel; both enemy and friendly.

MWDs were used for the first time during the Civil War. Harper’s Weekly tells a story of one such dog by the name of Union Jack. He was a “young dog of the mastiff breed, of medium-size and jetty blackness, except a white breast and a dash of white on each of his four paws.”

The story says that Jack was a noble and valiant hero. His exploits were heard of by many. Several soldiers talked about his bravery; here are some things they said about this mighty four-legged warrior:

On the road, when our parched men were fainting from thirst, he would always run forward, and whenever he discovered a pool of water would rush back, barking loudly, to tell them of it. When our poor fellows were literally dying from starvation, this noble animal has been known to go and catch chickens for them and to bring them in his mouth.

Jack would waylay every horse or wagon passing with food, and bark imploringly for them to bring relief. On one occasion, when a sick and exhausted Union soldier had been left behind, Jack stayed with him for several hours until a wagon took him up.


MWDs have been used in many wars and conflicts. During WWI, and the Banana Wars they were used in an unofficial capacities. It wasn’t until 1943, during WWII, that the first combat dog was officially deployed to Bougainville in the South Pacific.

The “paws” that today’s WMDs have to fill are very big but many of them would have made Union Jack proud. War dogs deployes in the war on terror are being used much the same way MWDs were in previous wars and conflicts.

The Marines use them for a variety of counter-insurgency actions. MWDs work hard at detecting explosives, weapons caches, sniffing out drugs, and tracking down potential enemies. These war dogs are trained to “sniff out” hazardous substances and IEDs and point them out to their handlers.

They also serve as protectors of the Marines they travel with. It’s a long hard road to become a handler and an explosives device detection dog. A handler and his dog will train for around 11 months. During this time, they work tirelessly for the duties they will have to perform when deployed. The video below shows a little bit of the training that dogs who are to become WMDs must endure.

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WMDs are highly trained and when necessary they use ruthless aggression to attack and take down an opponent. These canines serve as an extra set of eyes and ears on patrol. Some of these MWDs endure as many as five deployments.

These MWDs have to be good at what they do because Marines’ lives depend on them. One story of a MWD saving lives is found on the Marine Corps blog and it tells of Marines on security patrol in Afghanistan.

LCpl Jarett Hatley and his improvised explosive device detection dog Blue was with Marines of the 3/3. They were passing through a small farming village of Daywala with the Afghan National Army.

The Marines had stopped and searched a suspicious compound in which they found mortar casings and then moved to search surrounding compounds. They wanted to avoid the road due to the threat of IEDs, so they opted to cross a field that was next to the village and headed into a canal which was three-feet wide.

The Marine Corps blog continues with the story as follows:

Before stepping into the canal, Hatley noticed a darker patch of dirt that looked recently disturbed. Halting the patrol, he sent Blue to sniff for explosives. Moments later, the yellow Labrador retriever laid down next to the area, confirming the presence of an IED on the path a dozen more men were about to travel.

MWDs, like Blue, have saved a number of lives throughout their use during war. They are truly the unsung heroes of combat. They also serve as morale boosters to the many Marines who are around them. This writer would like to salute the MWDs, and their handlers for a job well done. Semper Fidelis Marines.

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