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Man’s best friend patrols beside Marines

21 Oct 2005 | Cpl. Adam C. Schnell

The use of Dogs as guardians of military camps to protect against surprise attacks dates back to ancient Egypt. Today, dogs are not only guarding bases but also patrolling with Marines of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment in Iraq.

Sergeant James J. Wasmer, a Chatham, Mass. native, and his search dog, Euro, are one K-9 team busy doing weapons caches sweeps and entry control point searches to keep citizens of Iraq and Marines safe. Recently the team conducted a sweep with the battalion’s Company L to look for weapons caches and other explosives that might be in the area.

“We didn’t find any weapons caches, but we did find an AK-47 during the sweep,” commented Wasmer, a military working dog handler.

To be ready for missions like the ones they are currently involved in, the handler the dog must go through extensive training. The teams go through a training cycle at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas lasting 60 to 90 days, depending on the dog, said Wasmer.

“They are taught to associate a scent with a treat or toy when searching for explosives,” he said. “When they smell an explosive, they sit.”

For the handler, an extra four months after military police school is spent in a military working dog course at the Air Force base. They learn how the dogs are trained and how to be one of the few in the unique job field.

“When I heard that I could be a dog handler for the Marine Corps, I jumped at the chance because it sounded like a really cool job to have,” said the 1995 graduate of Chatham High School. “I always liked dogs and thought it would give me a chance to do something besides basic MP things.”

Even though being a dog handler is a rewarding and unique job field in the Marines, there is a lot of extra work involved. When deployed, they live with the dogs and care for them 24 hours a day.

“It is almost like having a two year-old around all the time,” said Wasmer, chuckling. “They are very demanding and it is a seven-day-a-week job, even in the rear.”

In the rear, meaning at bases in the United States, is where he has spent almost seven years working with dogs searching vehicles at the gates and on bases for drugs and explosives. He has spent the last eight months in Iraq and his job has changed a lot.

“We do improvised explosive device hunts and continuing to work sweeping areas for weapons caches,” he commented.

With Marine and Air Force specialized military search dog teams operating on different military bases in Iraq, the dogs are being used more and more. According to Wasmer, the dogs were not always used in deployed areas.

“They tried using the dogs for the same reason back in 1991, but it didn’t work that well,” he said. “So when [Operation Iraqi Freedom] came around, the Marine Corps decided to try and use the dogs again.”

Wasmer does not just use Euro to patrols with the Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. When he is not on a mission, he walks the dog around the camp to let Marines pet and play with him.

“It is a really great morale booster for the Marines,” he said.  “It reminds some of them of home. They always say to me how much they miss their dogs back home.”