The Forgotten Soldier

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I would like to think that all Americans appreciate and understand our military soldiers, airmen, marines, sailors, and guardsman’s’ roles in defending our freedom. Do we grasp the value of the military working dog and the job they perform?

Each branch of the military has working dogs. All working dogs, no matter what branch of service, are trained at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The exception to that are the Special Operation Units, such as the Green Beret. This article is concentrated on the U.S. Army 550th Military Working Dog Detachment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina which is the home of Joint Special Operations, US Army Forces Command, Army Reserve Command, and the 82nd Airborne.

I have had the honor and privilege to interview SSg Jon Silvey for this informative story. SSg Silvey is an experienced combat veteran, and senior canine handler/trainer. He is stationed at Ft. Bragg but deploys all over the world.

     The U.S. Army’s’ 550th MWD unit receives their dogs from Lackland Air Force Base. The dogs are purchased as puppies from Europe by specially trained teams of buyers. Some of the Malanois pups are gotten through a special breeding program at Lackland AFB. The predominant breeds are German Shepards and Belgian Malanois. The other somewhat common breeds’ acquired are from the hunting group, which include the Labrador and Pointer.

The Malanois and Shepards are raised by volunteer foster families in the San Antonio, Texas area for 18 months. They then enter Dog Training School at Lackland. Once their training is complete, they are shipped to their duty stations and paired with their handler. The handler is known in the military as a 31K. This is a military occupation specialty. The 31K has already completed their three and a half month course as a handler.

The dogs are trained as single purpose or dual purpose. A single purpose dog is the hunting breed, such as the Labrador and Pointer. They are known as Specialized Search Dogs {SSD}. They are gotten out of Europe at 12 months of age and begin their training at Lackland AFB at that time. Their training is five and a half months. The training is in 3 phases: rapport, obedience, and detection. Their skill is finding explosives. They are more easily trained for that function due their natural skill for hunting and work well off lead. There are a few of these dogs remaining in the Army as the Army has moved to the dual purpose dog. It is mainly the Marines and Coast Guard that utilize the single purpose dog.

The SSD trainers work with 2 dogs at a time if one should become sick, injured, or wash out.

The dual purpose dog is the Belgian Malanois and the German Shepard. As previously noted, at 18 months of age, these dogs began their 120 day training. They are trained as either Patrol Explosive Detector Dogs {PEDD} or Patrol Drug Detector Dog {PDDD}. Once the sixty days of training in patrol and sixty days in detection are complete, they are shipped to their duty station where they are paired with their handler.

The third type of specialized training is the Patrol Explosive Detector Dog with Enhancement { PEDD/E}. This is decided at the duty station after the trainer and Kennel Master decide which teams will move on to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for the additional skill. This added skill requires is an extra 12 weeks of schooling. The PEDD/E dog is the replacement for the Specialized Search Dog. The dog wears an electronic collar that emits beeps, vibrations, and pulses to assist the dog and handler in completing the assigned mission.

The dog-handler teams are deployed worldwide as well as state side. Some duty stations have special kennels for the working dogs to stay in when not on duty such as in Bagram and Kandahar, Afghanistan. It is most common for the handler to keep his dog with him. When not on duty, the dog gets to destress and relax by doing center line drills, fetch, and obedience exercises. Injured and sick dogs are given veterinary care. If a dog should die in the line of duty, every effort is made to send him/her back to the states.

The dogs serve approximately eight to nine years. Once the dog is retired the handler has first choice to adopt. If he opts not to adopt, the dog is offered for adoption at the kennel of their duty station. If there is no interest in adoption, the dog is listed for adoption out of the area. Applicants apply to adopt a Hero dog through Lackland AFB. SSgt Silvey noted there is usually a wait list for the dogs. Prior to adoption, a screening process is done to ensure proper placement as some dogs have PTSD or cannot be with certain age groups, such as children. In addition, all vetting is made current including the neuter of male dogs. Females have been spayed prior to beginning their military career.

SSg Silvey has adopted both of his canine partners. He adopted his first dog, Turbo, a black lab. Turbo served in Afghanistan as an SSD. He came home in 2014. Unfortunately he had to be euthanized on July nineteen 2015 due to lymphoma. Just last month, SSg Silvey retired his partner, Fido, a German shorthaired pointer. He worked with him since 2013. He is now living happy and peacefully with him and his family in North Carolina.

The core values of duty, honor, respect, integrity, courage, and loyalty not only apply to the handler but the canine as well. I hope the next time we remember our military heroes, we think of the working dogs also.  I wish everyone would say a prayer for those who serve in the military or have served because without them, we would not be the “LAND OF THE FREE”. It is not an entitlement; it is a privilege to be living in this country. I ask all who read this story to go to you tube and listen to Lee Greenwood “Proud to Be American-Bless the USA”.

Special thanks to the following people for making this story and pictures possible: SSG Jon Silvey of the 550th MWD Detachment Ft. Bragg; Lt. Hatfield of the 550th MWD Detachment Ft.Bragg; Major Douglas Ray of USSOCOM at Ft. Bragg, and Robert “Chief” Rubio USAF AETC 37 TRW.

 

                                                          Kathy Mikaniewicz- Hynes RN BSN

                                                          Veteran USAF Flight Nurse

                                                           Psychiatric Nurse Veteran Administration

                                                           Owner Got Spots Etc.

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