CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq -- One of the common aspects of operations in the Al Qa’im area of responsibility is the routine discovery of hidden weapons caches, mines, explosives and even insurgents.
Helping with that search is a pair of unique Marines, unlike any others.
“Sometimes it’s like our dogs are here for a [morale, welfare and recreation] purpose,” said Phoenix native, Sgt. Jerrod M. Glass, military police working dog handler, 2nd Military Police Battalion, Regimental Combat Team – 2. “People like to pet them. I think it reminds them of home”
The dogs aboard Camp Al Qa’im, Spike and Ali, however, are not here for the morale of the troops. Their job consists of sniffing out bombs, improvised explosive devices and weapons caches.
“We go out on all kinds of missions; raids, vehicle check points, cordon and knock missions,” said Glass. “We guard detainees, we do it all.”
Glass is the handler for Spike, a 3-year-old, 70-pound Belgian Malinois who is very aggressive for his size, said Glass.
“We call him ‘Son of Satan’,” said Philadelphia native, Cpl. Jeffrey S. Beck, Glasses fellow military police working-dog handler, referring to Spikes’ aggressive personality.
Beck, 20, is the handler for Ali, a 4-year-old, 110-pound German Shepherd whom he lovingly refers to as ‘The Gentle Giant’ for his calm demeanor.
“He lets people come up and pet him,” said Beck.
On missions, however, the dogs provide a good mental deterrent, said Glass.
“It’s a big deal around here for people to see dogs like this,” he added, referring to the local Iraqis. “Just having the dogs present, they know not to mess around.”
Both dogs came with their handlers from their home base of Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif. While in Iraq, however, they support the 2nd Military Police Battalion. Handlers are always with their dogs, no matter where they may deploy or for how long, said Glass.
Becoming a working dog handler is something held in high regard among military policemen, he said.
“You get picked out of [military police] school. It’s challenging and a more advanced thing than regular police work,” he explained.
According to Beck, he was asked to be a dog handler because he was the honor graduate at military police school in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
There are approximately 200 handlers in the Marine Corps.
The dogs are used as military police working dogs until they reach the age of 9 or 10. After which, the dogs are considered eligible for retirement.
Dogs that are unable to maintain their effectiveness are let go. Dogs with passive personality traits can be adopted by their former owner, while the more aggressive dogs are generally put to sleep.
One of the primary responsibilities of being a dog handler is maintaining the health of the dogs.
“We go over them each day, making sure they’re healthy,” said Glass. “We look them over, give them baths and brush them. All handlers are taught first-aid for dogs so we can give them a splint or whatever they need.”
The dogs drive themselves hard on missions, according to Glass. The handlers monitor them to make sure they don’t over do themselves and make sure they get enough water, especially out in a desert environment.
Both Spike and Ali are generally fed with regular dog food, similar to what is bought at grocery stores. However, the dogs sometimes get fed a little extra.
“During a mission [Ali] wouldn’t eat his normal food and I was getting worried, so I cut up an [Meal, Ready-to-Eat] and fed it to him. He ate it up,” said Beck. “For a while I would mix food from an MRE like a grilled chicken breast with his food and he’d eat it up.”
Both Glass and Beck also receive care packages from concerned individuals in the United States, most of which is filled with food and treats for the dogs.
However, everything within the Camp Al Qa’im military working dog section isn’t positive.
“Spike and Ali don’t get along,” said Glass. “They’re both alpha-males so they are always competing for top dog. We have to keep them separated.”
Despite Spike and Ali’s general dislike for one another, the bond between the handler and his dog is remarkable.
“I can’t see myself ever leaving him,” said Beck, referring to Ali.