Dogs Help Our Heroes On And Off The Battlefield

185th Air Refueling Wing Chaplain, Lt Col Steve Peters with his dog Lincoln at the Iowa Air National Guard unit in Sioux City, Iowa on August 13, 2020. Lincoln is an English Cream Golden Retriever puppy in training to become a full time therapy dog at the Iowa Air Guard unit. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot)

Military service members often walk a dangerous path, and man’s best friend walks right alongside them, oftentimes even in front of them. For centuries, dogs have been an invaluable part of combat. In the last century, the United States military formally incorporated dogs into its forces. In recent years, dogs have proven to be just as important to service members off the battlefield as they have on the field. 

Though an unofficial canine force existed within the United States military during World War I, K-9 Corps, the official War Dog Program, wasn’t officially established and recognized until 1942. As the program was organized, 30 breeds and crosses were determined to be the best fits for service, and recruitment began. The dogs that passed training were utilized for a range of purposes including as messengers, mine-detectors/sniffers, and on both sentry and scout duties. By the end of World War II, there were between 18,000 and 20,000 dogs serving.

In future wars, the role of dogs on the battlefield expanded. During the Korean War, dogs helped detect enemy positions, penetrate enemy lines, and ambush snipers. They didn’t take on any significant new roles during the Vietnam War, but they did attract attention from the enemy. The Viet Cong hated American war dogs so much that a $20,000 bounty was put on their capture. Fast forward to modern combat and warfare, and today’s military working dogs are also trained in drug detection, explosive detection and sentry.  

Dogs don’t just walk beside our service members on the battlefield however; they also help them trudge the road to recovery. It’s been proven that dogs can play a foundational role in wounded service members’ recovery, especially those who have sustained invisible wounds of war: traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress (PTS). 

For those who have sustained a TBI, service dogs can be trained to help with many of the resulting symptoms. Those effects include assisting with balance, retrieving dropped items, and helping to prevent injuries that may result from diminished coordination, movement, or loss of vision. In PTS patients, service dogs can help address symptoms of anxiety and stress, while also performing actions that can increase serotonin and lower blood pressure. These service dogs also provide companionship, which can be crucial in the recovery of service members living with the effects of TBI & PTS. 

On the battlefield and off, dogs are saving and transforming the lives of our service members. Whether they’re sniffing out an explosive device and alerting their handler before it detonates or guiding a service member out of a crowd that’s triggering their PTS, dogs are a fundamental element of service in the United States military.  


Posted on September 21 2020 in Blog

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