BRAVEHORSE TRIBUTE Scout Dogs in Vietnam

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TRIBUTE Scout Dogs in Vietnam
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Adjunct Professor

Warrior Motto: Enemy's Worst Enemy

The Canine Warrior

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Scout Dogs in Vietnam

Warriors Citation
In Vietnam, various scout dog platoons were in wide use among infantry units. The 1st Infantry Division was no exception. They were supported by the 35th at Dian and the 41st Infantry Platoon (Scout Dog) stationed at Lai Khe."The scout dog had become a lot more popular over here in the last few years," asserted Sergeant Jack C. Russell, training NCO for the 41st platoon. However, the dogs must come a long way before they could be utilized on ambush patrols and recon-in-force teams by the Big Red One. Scout dogs differed in both temperament and training from tracking and sentry dogs. Tracker dogs are usually docile and sentry dogs are trained to kill. The scout dog, under ordinary conditions are neither docile or killers, but well trained, obedient and alert. For these reasons, particular care went into selecting a dog for scout training. The first phase of training came at Lackland Air Force Base, Tex. Here the dogs underwent extensive training to determine whether or not they were scout dog material. First of all, the canine must be in good health, must not weigh less than 60 pounds and be between one and three years old. If the dog was selected for scout training, he was sent to the Army's Scout Dog Training School at Ft. Benning, Ga. The selection of handlers for the dogs was as important as the selection of the dogs themselves. Experience had shown that handlers must have a friendly attitude toward dogs, patience and perseverance, physical endurance and exercise common sense. At Ft. Benning the dogs underwent 12 weeks of intensive training with these men, who remained with the dogs throughout the entire cycle. The training was broken down into two parts. Basic obedience, the first phase, took place during the first two weeks of the training. It was during this period the handler got used to the dog, and the dog used to the handler. From the start, the warrior must establish himself as the boss or the dog's chances of excelling as a competent scout dog are threatened. The superiority was sustained by teaching the dog to obey such basic commands as "heel, sit, down, stay and crawl." This was done by the use of the hand-sign and voice. At the end of two weeks, the second phase of training began; it involved ten weeks of field instruction. The basic obedience learned during the first two weeks was not entirely forgotten, as the dogs were continually refreshed on previous commands through-out the cycle. The purpose of the field instruction was to teach the handler and dog to work as a team in alerting others to enemy presence. Also, the dog was taught to give only a silent warning, since barking would alert the enemy. During the ten week period, the dog and handler were exposed to every type of condition they will encounter in the jungle areas of Vietnam. For the first few weeks the dogs were taken on patrols during daylight hours until they become proficient enough to be introduced to night-time working conditions. During the night training phase, the handlers learned to place a greater reliance on the dog's abilities. Another phase of the training included three days spent in a simulated Viet Cong village. Here the dogs were able to operate under the same conditions they would find in a real enemy village. The final step of specialized training came in the eleventh week. Each team went through an Operational Readiness Test (ORT), where they were subjected to simulated combat conditions. They were required to demonstrate their proficiency in overcoming natural obstacles, scouting rice paddies, swamps, caves and tunnels, working from a boat, and scouting through villages and jungles. Each team were graded by a qualified instructor during ORT to determine if the dog or handler needed additional training. In a few cases some dogs had to be recycled. The final decision was left up to the chief instructor, who after conferring with his other instructors, decided who made the grade and who didn't. All of the instructors were qualified dog handlers themselves, and had spent a tour of duty in Vietnam as a scout dog handler. Bien Hoa Air Base was the next stop for both handler and dog.
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In most cases the two do not come to Bien Hoa together, unless it was a unit move. The reason for this is that some dogs have to stay behind for additional training. Also, there are already dogs in-country waiting for handlers. When the handlers reached Bien Hoa they receive another dog, which will be theirs for the rest of their Vietnam tour. Many seemed to think a dog would not listen to the commands of a new handler, but this was not the case with competent scout dogs. After two weeks of in-country training at the Air Base, the dog and his new master were old friends, and each knew just what to expect from each other. The training was a refresher of what was originally accomplished at Ft. Benning, and helped the team adapt more readily to their environment. From Bien Hoa, the scout dog teams were assigned to a scout dog platoon. Teams designated for the 41st Infantry Scout Dog Platoon were sent to Lai Khe, where they would assist infantry units of the Big Red One in tactical operations against hostile forces. They were employed to detect ambush sites and enemy caches of weapons, food and ammunition. After the teams reach Lai Khe and became settled in their new habitat, they underwent more training to familiarize themselves with the terrain in which they would be working. This was necessary, because the area around Lai Khe was different from such areas as the Delta region, where there was a great deal of water." He added the final check is to make sure the dog and handler were 100 per cent ready to participate in a patrolling activity. Additional drill would be required if they were not. If a dog picked up an unfamiliar scent while on patrol, he would give an alert, which the handler would pass on to the company commander or platoon leader. There was no special method by which all dogs alert. Each dog was an individual in his manner of alerting. Therefore, the handler must observe the dog's behavior carefully so he did not miss its signal of alert. Sergeant Gordon Moen of Meskegon, Mich., a handler with the scout dog platoon, admitted when his dog "Has So" gave an alert, the dog's hair would stand up on its back. Another dog called Major had the strange habit of crossing his ears on an alert, while Eric put on an acrobatic act by walking on his hind legs. "Everytime the dog became alert, the area was checked out for mines, personnel and boobytraps," said Sergeant Grimes. "These dogs were especially good at detecting ambushes," he added. Such was the case with Sergeant Jonnie D. Foster of Belhaven, N.C., and his dog Duke. While working as pointmen for Company A, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, the scout team alerted the company just in time to keep the men from walking into an enemy ambush. Because the dog had acted quickly in alerting First Lieutenant Anthony F. Romans, A Company's commanding officer, the soldiers were able to take good defensive positions before the unavoidable enemy contact. In a letter of commendation from Lieutenant Romans, the two were singled out for "clearly demonstrating the high level of proficiency that can be rendered by scout dog teams." Sergeant Russell pointed out that many times while working in tall grasses, the dogs will jump up above the growth to get the scent. "A scout dog was not able to distinguish between an enemy force or a weapons cache," he added, "but the dog gave out with a stronger alert the greater the find." Scout dogs, in many cases, were able to detect the enemy hiding underwater. If the enemy was using a reed to breathe through, the canine will have little trouble picking up the scent. Whenever a dog was injured in the field and has to be taken out of action, he was treated much the same way as a human casualty would be. If the injury was serious and requires surgery, the dog would be taken to the Army Animal Clinic at Ton Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon where a well-trained veterinarian took over. In most instances, however, a veterinary technician was assigned to each scout dog platoon. He was able to treat minor illnesses and injuries. The majority of the injury cases could be treated on the spot, permitting the dog to continue its mission. As with soldiers, medical records of the dogs were also kept up to date. Most of the animals weighed between 70 and 75 pounds. They were well fed and groomed by their handlers, who had the full responsibility of caring for the dog. The handlers took care of their dogs 24 hours a day. They did everything but sleep and eat with them to insure the animals' well-being. As a result of this close association, man and dog became quite attached to one another. "My dog was the greatest," affirms Sergeant Foster; "he's like a brother." Sergeant Moen explains that every dog handler felt the same toward his animal. "A dog was as good as a weapon," he said. When the dogs were not in the field they are usually training, which could involve putting enemy decoys ahead of the dogs for special alert drills. The dog's high standards were constantly being honed to near perfection. The life of a Scout Dog was a rough one, but as many units will testify-a scout dog meant the difference between life and death. From: historical accounts & records

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