Today I had the pleasure of meeting yet another heroic U.S. Service Member working in Afghanistan. During his time here (this is not his first tour) SSD Jag has worked selflessly to search out not only IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) but the people who make them as well. Due to his proven talent in his skills and his previous success, word out on the street is there is a price out on this Army Service Member’s head. But you wouldn’t know it by his constant upbeat, positive attitude. You see, SSD stands for Special Service Dog and SSD Jag is one of many Army service dogs deployed here to Afghanistan.
I’ve read/heard numerous stories and comments over the past few years about how having dogs around locals here in Afghanistan is seen as “disrespectful” and “dirty” and has caused drama. Recently, one reason given by an Afghan policeman who “turned” on his U.S. trainers by shooting them as they played a hand of cards was “the Americans brought dogs too close to women.” I’ve heard people speak of how it’s culturally insensitive to have dogs here. And to a degree, this is true—it’s not common at all here for someone to have a family dog or to be seen playing Frisbee with their pet in front of their house. But here’s another reason why some locals and officials do not want dogs here—they do a darn good job at finding explosives and the people who handle explosives, thus saving lives.
Jag’s handler (who asked to remain nameless) told us today that Jag has a perfect record of no one being injured behind them. This means that in his multiple tours, Jag has cleared areas and deemed them safe and has not missed an IED. He has located explosives and alerted his handler to them—otherwise, Soldiers and locals might have been hurt or killed. He has smelled around individuals and given reason for search when otherwise his human co-workers would not have been able to prove anything or apprehend the culprit. While someone dealing with explosives might be able to hide the evidence from humans, he can’t fool Jag.
His handler told us of a recent incident where Jag started alerting him to a man sitting nearby. The handler and his buddy looked at each other as Jag sniffed and reacted in a prescribed manner that indicated that while they couldn’t see any evidence—this man did indeed have explosives on him. Long story short, the guy showed ID and it was confirmed he worked for the coalition forces (for another country) in an explosives-related capacity. So Jag proved his worth again—it just happened to be a friendly face this time.
This has made Jag quite unpopular among Afghan insurgents and Taliban. His handler told us of a sniper who was apprehended with a photo of him, Jag, and a certain Afghan individual in his pocket. How’d that sniper get the photo? You can probably imagine. The fact that snipers are marking Jag indicates how valuable these Army assets are to the mission in Afghanistan.
Jag’s handler has been his teammate since Jag was a puppy. As he pointed out, Jag and other SSD dogs could be “thrown out in the field” to do their work with anyone, but unless they are working with their handler who knows them well and can identify even the slightest of indicators—things could be missed. The connection the handler has with his working dog partner is just as valuable to the completion of a mission as the actual training the dog has received. And while SDDs are no family pet but instead working dogs with military rank (the dog must outrank his dog to prevent abuse and to properly handle any incident or mistreatment), Jag happens to be a very sociable dog who also enjoys visiting with Troops in his downtime.
The dog/handler teams do amazing things here in Afghanistan so my question was, “Why doesn’t the Army start sending more dogs to Afghanistan then—especially to monitor locals working on the military posts?” and another Soldier asked, “Why don’t we use dogs instead of robots? I’ve seen the robots miss things and we got blown up.” The handler informed us of the number of dogs in country 3 years ago and now—let’s just say they are increasing the numbers. He then explained the amount of time, training, and money it takes to get really good at the job. I say it’s worth it and I think the lives saved by these dog/handler teams would agree.
Natosha Monroe is an Army Reserve Mental Health Specialist stationed in Afghanistan. She is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.