Man’s best friend is a dog, the old saying goes, and that applies to combat as well. Military working dogs serve with all branches of the military today and have been used by the United States since the Revolutionary War. They were first used as pack animals, but working dogs have served in military roles such as scouting, policing, detection, and even combat. Today, hundreds of dogs serve with U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan as scout dogs, police dogs and with tasks like land-mine detection and border patrol.
There are countless stories of bravery and heroism from the four-legged members of the military, and those continue to this day. Yet despite the fact that working dogs have served and fought alongside the military since the country’s founding, there was no national war memorial for working dogs until 2013. The U.S. Military Working Dog Teams National Monument was finished in late 2013 at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The base has been the military’s center for training working dogs since World War II.
The large memorial features statues of four dogs and a handler, with the words “Guardians of America’s Freedom” written boldly across the front of the monument. The four dogs are representative of the four most commonly used dogs in recent military history, but all kinds and sizes of breeds have been used from Terriers to German Shepherds. Let’s take a look a just a few of the hundreds of amazing military dogs in U.S. history.
6. Sallie – Civil War
The first dog on our list is Sallie, who served in the Civil War as the mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Sallie was a a Staffordshire Terrier who served with the soldiers on the front lines of many battles. She was even at the Battle of Gettysburg, where she got separated from the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the fighting.
Sallie was found by her soldiers three days after going missing. She was still on the battlefield, guarding the wounded and dead soldiers. Sallie was killed in action at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run in Virginia. Years after the Civil War had ended, soldiers from her regiment placed a memorial statue of Sallie at Gettysburg.
5. Sgt. Stubby – World War I
Sergeant Stubby was the most decorated war dog of World War I, serving with the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division. The only dog to be promoted to the rank through combat, Sgt. Stubby served in the trenches in France, warning soldiers of incoming shells, gas attacks, and locating wounded soldiers on the battlefield. In one instance he captured a German spy singlehanded.
Cpl. John Robert Conroy took Stubby at Yale where the soldiers were training. Conroy then snuck Stubby with him to France when the troops shipped out. After the two survived a gas attack by the Germans, Stubby developed a keen smell for gas and would alert the men to incoming attacks since he could smell it long before a human could. He received multiple medals, met 3 Presidents, and became the official mascot of Georgetown University after the war. Sgt. Stubby was with Conroy when he died in 1926.
4. Chips – World War II
The most decorated military dog of World War II was a German Shepherd/Collie/Husky mix named Chips. Part of the Dogs for Defense program initiated after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Chips was given to the military by his owner in New York. Chips served in General Patton’s Seventh Army in Germany, Italy, Sicily, France, and North Africa. He was awarded the Silver Star for valor and the Purple Heart for his injuries. Unfortunately, the military later took back the medals, claiming that Chips was only equipment and not eligible to receive the medals.
Chips has many stories of heroics and valor on the battlefields of WWII, but perhaps his two most famous acts happened in the same day. While in Sicily, Chips and his fellow troops became pinned down by machine gun fire from a pillbox. Chips singlehandedly charged into the pillbox and captured all four Italian soldiers inside. Later that night, while the soldiers were asleep, Chips heard enemy soldiers approaching for an ambush, then woke and alerted the men. The soldiers were able to capture every enemy soldier thanks to Chips, who had saved their lives.
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3. Nemo – Vietnam War
Nemo A534, a German Shepherd, served with the Air Force in the Vietnam War. While on guard duty one night with his handler, Airman Robert Throneburg, Nemo sensed enemy soldiers approaching and alerted Throneburg. Thanks to Nemo’s alert, Throneburg was not taken by surprise and the two were able to put up a valiant fight.
Both Nemo and his handler were shot during the fight with the Viet Cong guerillas, Throneburg in the chest and Nemo in the nose and eye. Despite the gunshot wound, Nemo helped keep the attackers at bay long enough for Throneburg to radio for help. When Throneburg fell unconscious from his wounds, Nemo guarded his wounded handler from attacking forces until help arrived. In fact, Nemo was so protective of his handler that he wouldn’t let anyone near him – friend or foe – and it eventually took a veterinarian to get Nemo to move so that medics could treat them. Both recovered from their injuries. Throneburg received a Puprle Heart and a Bronze Star Medal with Valor and Nemo was given a permanent kennel to retire. He was one of the first dogs allowed to return to the United States after serving overseas since World War II.
2. Cairo – Operation Neptune Spear
Modern day U.S. military dogs are used primarily for sniffing out and detecting hidden or buried explosives (IEDs) in the Middle East. One modern military dog in particular, Cairo, has the unique distinction of being the only military personnel named from Operation Neptune Spear – the covert military operation that took down Osama Bin Laden.
Cairo is a Belgian Malinois and a canine member of the elite Navy SEALs. Cairo was part of the Navy SEAL team that stormed Osama Bin Laden’s compound in May of 2011 in Pakistan. Cairo helped secure the outside perimeter of the building and was tasked with tracking down anyone who tried to escape, as well as being an alert of any incoming interference. He was outfitted with a special vest that included tactical equipment. Though little is known about the exact actions of Cairo during the operation, he was the only military dog to be part of one of the biggest military operations in modern history.
1. Lucca – Iraq
Lucca, a German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix, served for six years in the United States Marine Corps, completing two tours of active service. A specially trained explosive detecting dog, Lucca was able to work off-leash to find buried or hidden explosives and IEDs. During her two tours, she completed around 400 missions and saved countless lives by detecting explosive devices.
In 2012, Lucca was on her second tour in Afghanistan when she saved the lives of several Marines – but at a price. After finding one buried explosive, Lucca began the search for a second device in the area. An IED was set off, with Lucca taking the brunt of the explosion. Her handler at the time, Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, immediately applied a tourniquet to her front leg, and later stayed with her during her recovery. Unfortunately, Lucca’s leg had to be amputated due to the injury. That didn’t affect Lucca much, according to Rodriguez, who says she almost immediately wanted to get back up and start walking. She was granted the Dickin Medal by the PDSA and was (unofficially) granted a Purple Heart by a fellow Marine who had also received the medal.
Watch Lucca’s full story in the video below!
These are top dogs.
Service K9s Matty, Fieldy, Bond, and Isky were honored with the highest honor for military dogs in the United States, the K9 Medal of Courage.
The medal was designed by philanthropist and veterans advocate Lois Pope and the American Humane Society, and is awarded to military dogs who show extraordinary valor and service.
“These remarkable dogs work side-by-side with the men and women of our Armed Forces, performing vitally important and life-saving work, while putting their own lives on the line for our country,” Pope said.
Matty, a Czech German Shepherd, was skilled at uncovering the buried improvised explosive devices that threatened his company while working in Afghanistan. Retired Army Specialist Brent Grommet said his entire unit owes their lives several times over to Matty, who now helps Grommet work through PTSD in civilian life.
“Matty and Brent were driving in a truck that was hit by two roadside bombs. They were flown back to the United States for treatment. Although Brent had already filled out adoption paperwork, while he was having neurosurgery, Matty was wrongly given to someone else,” the American Humane Association reported. “The two friends lost track of each other. Soldier and dog were separated but they never stopped seeking each other out – and finally, with the help of American Humane, these two faithful Battle Buddies were brought back together.”
Fieldy, a black Labrador, also tracked IEDs in Afghanistan. After four tours overseas, Fieldy now lives with U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Nick Caceres, where he fills a crucial role as Caceres’ emotional support. Finding and disarming countless explosives can take an incredible mental toll on humans and the animals who sense the tension and see the repercussions of war. The story played out no differently for Caceres and Fieldy, but fortunately the two now have each other for comfort.
“Soldiers have been relying on these four-footed comrades-in-arms since the beginning of organized warfare and today military dogs are more important than ever in keeping our service men and women safe,” said American Humane President and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert. “At American Humane, which has been working with the U.S. military and military animals for 100 years, we feel it is time to recognize and honor the extraordinary feats and acts of devotion these heroic animals perform every day.”
Belgian Malinois Bond and his handler left the service with more than just respect after over 50 combat missions and multiple deployments to Afghanistan. Bond served as a multi-purpose dog in his Special Operations unit, and while the anxiety of bomb detecting is a little easier to manage now that he’s returned to the states, he now has an even more important job as a support dog.
Isky’s service career stretched well beyond finding IEDs in Afghanistan. The German shepherd worked with handler U.S. Army Sargent Wess Brown as a guard for four-star American generals and diplomats. Isky was injured in combat and his leg was amputated but he continues to serve proudly as Brown’s service dog.
“It is important to recognize and honor the remarkable accomplishments and valor of these courageous canines,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, co-chair of the Congressional Humane Bond Caucus. “By helping locate enemy positions, engage the enemy, and sniff out deadly IEDs and hidden weapons, military dogs have saved countless lives in the fight for freedom.”
General Robert B. Neller, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps., First Sgt. Matt Eversmann (Ret.) — hero of the Battle of Mogadishu and Black Hawk Down fame — and USMC Col. Scott Campbell, Commanding Officer of the Wounded Warrior Regiment in Quantico, VA, placed the medals upon the dogs at Capitol Hill on July 13.
Service dogs can help veterans who struggle with physical or mental disabilities, but training them can be a difficult task. Follow this link to read about one former Marine K9 handler who is using his expertise to help place service dogs with the veterans who need them.