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National K-9 Veterans Day is March 13

Wayne Hopper, Legal Assistant

            The hard work and sacrifices of American men and women in uniform are undeniable. Over the past 20 years, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have taken an immeasurable toll on those who served. About 1% of Americans shouldered the load for the entire nation during those conflicts. We owe them our immense gratitude. But there is an often-overlooked group who also served selflessly in these conflicts. National K-9 Veterans Day, March 13, is a day set aside to commemorate the service and sacrifices of America’s military and working dogs.

The use of dogs on the battlefield dates to ancient times. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians all used dogs in warfare. The United States Army’s ‘War Dog Program’ (also known as ‘K-9 Corps’) began on March 13, 1942. The program marked the first time that dogs were officially part of the U.S. Armed Forces. Since then, military working dogs have been used in every major conflict, even the War on Terror. They have also been heavily utilized by the Special Operations community, accompanying Green Berets, Delta operators, and SEALs on highly classified missions worldwide.

Modern military working dogs are highly trained for specific mission sets. These roles include the detection of explosives or drugs, search and rescue, patrol, and attack. It can take months or even years to train dogs for their specialized missions. Military dogs have even been trained to accompany their handlers on military free-fall parachute insertions. Developments in equipment have allowed the military to outfit working dogs with the latest tactical and protective technology. The latest canine tactical vests are equipped with body armor, cameras, and microphones.

Military working dogs are not chosen at random. In fact, certain breeds are selected for service based on their physical abilities, temperament, and aptitude for the job. Breeds commonly employed for military service include German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, and the Belgian Malinois.

There have been several famous military working dogs. For his actions, ‘Chips’ was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and Purple Heart. ‘Cairo’ was the dog who accompanied the Navy SEALs on the mission to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. These dogs share all the hardships of those they serve with, and some have even made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the nation.

While we pause to remember our veterans each year on Veterans Day and other patriotic holidays, I hope you take a moment on March 13th to remember the service and sacrifice of our K-9 veterans. Their contributions to our nation’s security should not be overlooked.