"War dogs have, indeed, served the nation well and saved many lives. Dogs continue to serve to protect Americans both in combat zones and in homeland security roles." - General Colin Powell, USA (Ret.)
"You can trust a man that doesn't like dogs, maybe, but you cannot trust a man that dogs don't like."
-Daniel Reeder, Age 9
ALCON: Read this book.
...Marine LCpl William "Billy" Crouse was on patrol with his chocolate Lab, a bomb-detection dog named Cane. They were looking for IEDs along a roadway...An IED found them first...As Crouse was being evacuated, he cried out "Get Cane in the Blackhawk!" Then he lost consciousness. They were his last words. His dog, terribly wounded, died as well...
Praise for Soldier Dogs: "[A] highly recommended book if you have the slightest interest in military working dogs. A must read - I say again must read - book if you have ever served anywhere they've had paws on the ground. I'm not sure who to thank more...Maria Goodavage for her book or Blek, Lucy, Buck, Ajax, Davy, Tina, Patrick, Fenji, Rex, Cinte, Lex, Ben, Lars, Duc and the other dogs and their handlers for helping her write it..."
-David Reeder, Military.com
Wait, that's me. Too much? Am I allowed to quote myself if I really meant? If not, I apologize. I just wanted that up front on the off chance it will help someone else promote this book.
I received an advance copy of Maria Goodavage's Soldier Dogs to review a few weeks back and read it in just a couple days, but I held off on putting the review up because I wanted to run it the day the book was officially released. That's today, March 15th. Go buy the book.
Every sopping night [Marine Sgt.] Vierig would sink into the foxhole to sleep and would get Lex in to bunk with him...Every night Vierig would wake up at least a couple of times to scoop water from a deep hole he'd dug at the foot to collect water so his foxhole wouldn't flood. But when Vierig awoke in the middle of the night, Lex was rarely in the foxhole. It was baffling the first time it happened, but the Marine raised the tarp and looked outside and found his dog. This would go on every night during those wet weeks..."He'd just be standing there, in the rain, just standing guard over me." The dog did not site, but stood, head erect, large triangular ears at attention for sounds, eyes peering into the darkness for any sign of intrusion.."
I like dogs, I always have. To be honest, I like dogs more than most people and MWDs and police K9s more than that. I worked
alongside Bricks (who was a very stubborn dog) and Sascha (who wasn't) overseas. I've worked alongside Rocky, Marco, Titan and Dash here On The Job. My brother was a dog handler and is now a canine unit supervisor. I was predisposed to like the book. I admit it, I wanted to like it before I ever started.
It might surprise you then when I admit I didn't care it when I first started reading it. At first. I'm not sure what I expected. I think maybe something more along the lines of an anecdotal collection, an anthology of first- and third-person accounts of dogs and their handlers at work. Something like Matt Gallagher's Kaboom, David Bellavia's House to House, Kopelman's From Baghdad With Love even...maybe Sebastian Junger's War writ in smaller episodes, with fur and teeth. That's not how Soldier Dogs starts out, and I was disappointed...
...but not for very long. Ms. Goodavage has a straight forward but eloquent style that compels attention. She's extremely passionate about her topic (if you couldn't guess that from her work at Dogster) a fact that illuminates her prose. Though I didn't go into this looking for history of the "war dog" or wondering how a dog's nose worked (or for that matter how a handler is trained, or why they screw around with ammo cans on leashes) I was quickly sucked in. I was halfway through the book before we really started getting dogs down range, but it didn't matter. I wasn't putting the book down.
I will warn you up front, if you're a dog handler or someone who has a background that lends itself to familiarity with the subject. This isn't a really gritty book. Make no mistake, there are difficult parts to read. If the hairs don't stand up on your arm when you read about PFC Colton Rusk and Eli, or Sgt. Amanda Ingraham and Rex there's something wrong with you. She never treats the subject matter lightly or with anything less than the appropriate gravitas. Handlers and dogs are wounded and killed; one chapter is titled "The Sound of Blek Screaming." It isn't as though the author approaches things with naivete or anything, but she does write from the perspective of what Military.com's readership might describe as an outsider. She's a civilian. That I'm aware of she hasn't been downrange alternating between being damn glad the dogs are walking point and pissing and moaning about all the slobber on your kit (though she did spend a lot of time on the ground at Lackland, YPG and other places doing research for the book). Though she had written about MWDs before, it's pretty likely her first real intimate exposure to dog school and IASK were when she started working on the book. When you read her description of catching a bite while wearing the sleeve, you can tell it's a Big Deal - something a few of you will no doubt find elementary.
This is by no means a Bad Thing. I think this actually gives the book a refreshing, unbiased perspective. Dog handlers and a lot of trigger-pullers might like a book written by a dog handler about his or her work outside the wire, but this book is written to appeal to all comers. Listen, I'm no expert, but I've worked around puppy-pushers for 23 years. I've read Lemish's book cover to cover several times now ('cuz, you know, that makes me an expert) and I had no idea how much I didn't know.
The book runs the gamut from doggies working every conceivable assignment from EOD to CJOSTF, ECP and search teams to infantry patrols and all jobs in between. Ms. Goodavage will tell you about EDDs (Explosive Detector Dogs), CTDs (Combat Tracker Dogs) and SSDs (Specialized Search Dogs) and make you want to know the difference between a PEDD and a TEDD. I certainly didn't have more than a passing acquaintance with CPTSD, or know about the current efforts to provide medical retirements for MWDs, the movement to establish an MWD Memorial or the increasing number of retiring MWDs being successfully adopted by civilian families (though handlers still have priority).
It's not just people who adopt from overseas location who put a Herculean effort into adopting a military working dog. While I was at Lackland, I met a couple who drove 1,047 miles, from rural Illinois, to pick up their dog...
It's Patrol Explosive Detector Dog and Tactical Explosive Detector Dog, by the way. PEDD and TEDD I mean.
I could write a lot more about this book and its contents, but my editor doesn't care for War and Peace length entries (even if the subject matter deserves it). I haven't even touched on the MPCs (special operations multi-purpose canines like Cairo, the dog that got Ms. Goodavage interested in an MWD book in the first place) or the training of both dog and handler. You'll just need to read the book and get the lowdown. You can get the book on Amazon or Indiebound or any of several other places (there's a link on the home page). If you're trying to decide whether the book is worth the cover price, or the time it would take you to read it, it is.
"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die want to go where they went." - Will Rogers
A couple of months after I met her, Fenji got on a C-17 and flew back to Afghanistan with her new handler for a seven-month rotation. Once again walking point, with her handler close behind.
Note: I would be remiss if I didn't mention somewhere you can learn about MWD adoptions, recent news of a state-built MWD/K9 memorial or the bill currently seeking to reclassify MWD so they are no longer considered equipment. More information on that here. Also, in addition to the book's Facebook page, which is frequently updated, check the official homepage periodically too. They’re consistently adding new pictures and videos that anyone interested in Military Working Dogs and working canines will probably like.