Sunday, December 21, 2008

Working Dog Teams Help to Make Baghdad's Streets Safer

A Multinational Division Baghdad soldier and his four-legged partner work with other military dog teams here in helping to make Baghdad's streets safer for Iraqi citizens and soldiers to live and operate.

Army Sgt. James Harrington, a military policeman and dog handler attached to the 1st Special Troops Battalion of the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, along with Ryky, his canine partner, patrol the streets and communities of southern Baghdad's Rashid district to search for weapons and make soldiers a more effective force.

Harrington, assigned to the 947th Military Police Detachment, part of the 3rd Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard," stationed out of Fort Myer, Va., and his 3-year-old Belgian Malanois partner, completed more than 50 missions and uncovered more than 25 finds since arriving to Rashid in October.

Harrington said Ryky has made several significant finds since beginning her mission in Baghdad, including an AK-47 assault rifle hidden in a false ceiling and four mortar rounds that led to the discovery of a large mound of hollowed-out munitions. Ryky detects odors from many types of munitions, such as ammunition, weapons, mortar rounds, artillery rounds, homemade explosives and trigger devices with residue on them.

Harrington, a native of New Orleans, said the hollow ceiling discovery was significant because most dogs do not acknowledge the space above their own height.

"Ryky is a very friendly dog," Harrington, a former Marine Corps infantryman, said. "She is not a trained attack dog, so I allow her to be sociable with soldiers. I let others pet her, because it is a big morale booster."

Harrington met Ryky at the Specialized Service Dog School at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

"At the school, the dogs are exposed to helicopter rides, simulated gunfire and simulated mortars to see how they react," said Harrington, a 14-year military service veteran with six deployments since 1995. "The dogs must be confident around the noises; they can't just take off running."

Capable of detecting 19 separate odors on the battlefield and able to run off of a leash, the specialized service dogs have a distinct advantage, Harrington said.

"Having Sergeant Harrington and the [specialized-service] dog gives me the extra capability to unleash the dog into an open area," said Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Ogle, who hails from Dayton, Ohio, and is the kennel master for the Falcon 40th Military Police Detachment from Fort Sill, Okla., attached to the 1st STB. "It is that off-leash capability that puts the handler out of danger."

Harrington said he believes the ability to multitask while operating in sector and conducting weapon searches is an important quality dog handlers should possess.

"I have to be able to watch for my security, watch for the dog's security, watch what she is searching, and finally lead the dog in the direction I want her to search in next," he explained. "I always have to be two steps ahead."

Recently, Harrington and Ryky cleared a 600-meter portion of a main thoroughfare in Baghdad for a distinguished visitor; it took them about an hour.

"It would take another dog three hours to complete that stretch of road, because they would be on a six-foot leash and the handler has to present everything to the dog," Harrington said. Usually, the team uses a leash while out in sector due to stray dogs and small confined areas, he added, but, if needed, Ryky could be up to 200 yards away and still effectively search an area.

"It takes me out of the equation in case something was to go wrong; we lose a dog, but we don't lose a handler," Harrington said.

Harrington has worked with dogs for about two years. He noted the specialized-service dog program quickly is becoming more widespread across all facets of the military. The dog graduates ready to deploy right after completing the school, he explained, while other working dogs leave their school able to detect nine odors and receive additional training by their handlers in the combat theater.

"I think Ryky and I make soldiers' jobs easier because we can search faster, the dog can smell better and she leads from the front," Harrington said.

The K-9 Team here keeps seven dogs in its kennels to support military operations in southern Baghdad.

(Author Army Sgt. David Hodge serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)
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