Military working dogs protect Kandahar Airfield

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – When a human smells a hamburger, they smell a hamburger. When a K-9 (military working dog) smells a hamburger, it smells the meat, ketchup, mustard, pickles, tomato, lettuce and bun.

These extra senses come in handy when the International Security Assistance Force Dutch Force Protection military working dogs and their handlers guard Royal Dutch Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons at Kandahar Airfield – helping keep fighter planes and the airfield safe.

“The F-16 is very important for us to help the guys on the ground, and it is very important that F-16’s are protected by our dogs,” said Sgt. Johan Tuin, Dutch Force Protection K-9 handler.

The Dutch Force Protection soldiers use Belgian Shepherds to guard the flightline at night. The handlers and their canine friends stay alert and patrol the area to make sure nothing happens to the aircraft while they are on the ground.

“Dogs are far more alert then we are,” said 1st Cpl. Sjors Lagerweij, Dutch Force Protection K-9 handler. “They can see more clearly at night and can smell and hear [things from] miles away. At night we can’t see anything, so we pay attention to the dogs. We follow it to whatever it sees; they have really good senses.”

It can be tough work owning a dog, let alone taking care of one in a combat zone. There’s the bathing, cleaning, feeding, barking and the constant need for attention. But for the Dutch Force Protection dog handlers, it’s all part of the job.

“I take him out a lot, give him good food, brush him everyday, brush his teeth, I do sports with him and running,” said Lagerweij, a native of Utrecht, Holland.

The Dutch Force Protection dog handlers said they appreciate having a pet in a combat zone. And even though it’s part of their job to take care of the dog, many form strong bonds with their animals.

“Having a pet makes being in Afghanistan a lot easier,” said Lagerweij. “We are hooked up with them 24/7. We sleep in the same building, we take them everywhere with us–they like it too. They like the attention.”

Military working dogs’ senses are crucial to the mission of ISAF in Afghanistan. If a dog is able to smell the tomato in a hamburger, then he or she is also able to smell an improvised explosive device in the back of an insurgent’s vehicle.

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