Dogs trained to sniff out IEDs in Yuma desert - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Dogs trained to sniff out IEDs in Yuma desert

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YUMA, Ariz. -

In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Mark Antony implores a Roman horde to "cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war."

But a lot of time has passed since then. And it's unlikely any Afghanistan insurgents ever read Shakespeare in the first place. But the Taliban are very familiar with the "dogs of war."

In fact, dogs trained right here in Arizona are often the only thing that stands between the insurgents' weapon of choice and survival for U.S. soldiers and marines -- IEDs. Booby traps set off to kill Americans still on patrol in Afghanistan.

But there are more men being saved every day, by man's best friend.

Finding bombs hidden in dirt, stone or rubble has never been easy. And there's no hi-tech solution.

"To date man hasn't figured out a way of detecting IEDs better than the dog," says Gunnery Sgt. Chris Knight, U.S. Marines.

Only the remarkable nose of a military working dog can sniff out chemicals used to make IEDs.

But how do these dogs and their handlers prepare for deployment in what may be the most dangerous place on earth?

"Dog is showing me some change of behavior up around the corner, could be a rock pile," says P.F.C. Dan Jackson, U.S. Army.

Dogs like Bailey and his handler Army P.F.C. Dan Jackson train over and over again at K-9 Village, part of the Army's Yuma Proving Ground near Yuma, Arizona.

Loud speakers blare Arabic music from structures built to resemble an Afghan village.

There are other distractions as well to test both dog and handler -- like camels, goats and geese, along with live gunfire.

"We are trying to advance the dog as much as possible," says Knight.

For three years, Marine Gunnery Sergeant Chris Knight has run Yuma's military working dog school.

He's very well known in dog training circles and he's not easy to please.

"A very well trained team that's come through the course with a very good dog, served 7 months in Afghanistan and found 17 IEDs. So that's 17 IEDs who did not find him, did not find the dog or did not find everyone who was relying on that dog team."

The dog is trained to search the ground ahead of advancing soldiers. He can smell buried explosives. And when he finds one, the dog will sit or lay down to signal his handler that he's found something.

The dog's reward -- playtime with a rubber ball.

But not every dog team passes this ultimate test.

"Anywhere between 10 and 30 percent are teams that I would feel very comfortably following, the rest need more time to train."

Limited funds give them just three weeks to train here before they're shipped out. Gunny Knight says that's really not enough time.

"Three weeks is very beneficial but not necessarily the answer. If we had three months with these kids or these teams I think that we could be a lot more productive."

In Afghanistan, K-9 teams are always out front and always in the line of fire.

"They are definitely a target especially -- when so many teams have been so productive at finding IEDs -- that they have a big bull's eye on their head."

Of the 176 U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan so far this year, six have been dog handlers.

Marine Corporal David Sonka, a handler from Parker, Colorado, was killed along with his military working dog Flex just two weeks ago.

And while more U.S. Soldiers are now leaving Afghanistan, more dog teams are still going in.

So dogs like Yanko, this Belgium Malinois, have three weeks to prepare.

"Every day I'm learning more and more how essential these dogs are on the front lines," says U.S. Army Sgt. Sergio Bermudez.

Yanko and Sgt. Bermudez will soon be deployed to Afghanistan, along with Private Jackson and his dog Bailey.

"Do a lot more training once we get outside the wire we'll be ready."

All placed in harm's way with other dogs of war, trained in the Arizona desert, to the high expectations of at least one marine.

"I feel that it's my responsibility to ensure every dog that's going is trained as if it were going to be mine, so I hold them to a high standard and train every student as if it were my son or daughter. And if I incorporate those two I don't know where I can go wrong," says Knight.

What happens to a military working dog once his tour is over? Gunny Knight says 90-percent of them end up with their last handler.

The rest are adopted and live out their lives like any family pet. Very, very few are euthanized, and only if they are an extreme bite risk.

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