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Dogs were not officially made a part of the U.S. military until 1942. But their history of working on battlefields worldwide stretches back much further. Today, American military working dogs detect improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, with remarkable accuracy. They also provide comfort to men and women in uniform suffering emotional and physical wounds of war. But they are not always given the recognition that journalist Rebecca Frankel believes they deserve. When she began her weekly column on U.S. war dogs in 2010, she found that many were unaware of the critical role they can play in U.S. military missions. Frankel joins Diane to take us inside the world of war dogs.
Many listeners were moved by today’s show on war dogs and asked how to adopt a canine whose military career is over. The Defense Department’s official adoption website has important information about the adoption program and process. To complete an application, click here.
Excerpted from “War Dogs” by Rebecca Frankel. Copyright 2014 by Palgrave Macmillan Trade. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Military dogs play an integral role in U.S. operations abroad. They've been our first and most effective line of defense against IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2004. Today there are still thousands of dogs at work on bases across the country and alongside troops overseas. But journalist Rebecca Frankel says their value is frequently forgotten between military conflicts.
MS. DIANE REHMShe began investigating the world of war dogs for a weekly foreign policy column in 2010. She's now put her years of research and reporting into a book. It's titled "War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History and Love." Rebecca Frankel joins me in the studio. I invite you to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Rebecca, it's good to have you here.
MS. REBECCA FRANKELThanks so much for having me.
REHMI must say these dogs are so courageous. They seem to know what they have to do. How much training goes into each of these dogs?
FRANKELQuite a bit of training, actually. And they have to keep their training up throughout their careers. It's not a matter of going to dog training school for a few months and then going to deployment and then they sort of just keep up with it every day.
FRANKELYou know, the handlers really have to take time out of their days. They have to make sure that they're hitting all of their certification for detection. And also they have to keep their -- it's like muscle. You know, they need to keep it strong, they need to keep their dogs…
REHMHow young are they when they begin training?
FRANKELWell, some dogs actually begin sort of their sensory training soon after they're born. You know, the military dog program has a breeding program. And so they have these dogs as soon as they're puppies. And they try and do little exercises with them to get their sense heightened and to get them alert and aware. And they do simple, sort of basic commands with them the way we might train our dogs to sit or to pay attention -- to better pay attention and behave. But then I think their real training comes in at about 18 months to a year or two years.
REHMAnd are there certain breeds of dogs who are much better equipped and inclined?
FRANKELThere are. Right now the military primarily uses German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. And they use these breeds because they're highly intelligent, they're smart dogs and all they have very high working drives, which means that, you know, were these dogs in sort of their young years to sort of just sit at home and not have the stimulation of a working life that they'd probably be pretty bored. And they also happen to be very strong dogs, too.
FRANKELAnd they're sort of equipped for long working hours where may be some of us who have smaller dogs, who might need to take a break after a long walk. These dogs are kind of hearty and they like to do the job they do.
REHMHow much do they weigh, generally?
FRANKELOh, it can vary. You know, I think sometimes the Belgian Malinois can be a little smaller and they might weigh about 65 pounds. And then one dog I saw, his handler did sort of a carry, which is one the trails that they have to actually lift them up and carry them on their shoulders or pick them up and carry them in their arms. You know, that might be necessary when they're in a combat zone. And some of these dogs weight up to 98 or 100 pounds.
FRANKELSo they're not tiny.
REHMYeah, and do you think that the public is simply not sufficiently aware of what these dogs do?
FRANKELI think, you know, since the Osama bin Laden mission in May, 2011, the public is certainly more aware. There was the news that the Navy SEALS had a dog with them. The dog's name was supposedly Cairo. And I think there was more awareness and also more interest.
FRANKELBut I think that when it comes to the significance of what they're able to contribute and just how good they are at their job, that in fact, you know, when it comes to detecting IEDs, that nothing the military has been able to procure or invent or, you know, spend money on to sort of develop technology -- that dogs consistently outperform them.
REHMHow do they train them to smell out these IEDs?
FRANKELSo it's interesting. The way dogs smell and the way they process scent is very different than we do. You know, I think growing up we might learn to attach certain smells with certain people or places. And we recognize them and maybe we don't recognize every piece of that smell. Maybe we just think, oh, that smells like my grandmother's house after she used to, you know, make a meal, or, you know, this is the perfume my mom used to wear when I was growing up. But dogs actually can take a smell -- and they often use the example of a hamburger. Right?
FRANKELSo we know that this is the smell of a hamburger, but dogs can smell a hamburger and smell the patty, they can smell the cheese, they can smell the tomato and the lettuce. So when they're looking -- when they're trained on let's say the hamburger or on explosives, they can pick out C4 or the tape that's used with it. And if they pick up that scent, even if it's one piece of its greater whole, they're able to say, oh, I've smelled it. I know I'm -- I know this is when I'm supposed to give my signal. And so it makes them a lot better at using their noses than we are.
REHMSo you're saying if they had vegetable soup in front of them, they could pick out an onion or pick out a carrot.
REHMI mean it's comparable to that.
REHMIt's so sharp, that scent.
FRANKELIt is. It is very sharp and, you know, so that the average human, I think, has something like 5 million scent receptors. And a dog has, on an average, 220 million scent receptors in their nose. So it's not even that they can smell a little bit better. They smell, you know, exponentially better than we do.
REHMHow many dogs are currently being used in places overseas?
FRANKELSo the number of dogs overseas has actually decreased dramatically in the past few years. And it -- in some ways it makes sense that, you know, as we're drawing down, you know, as we brought our troops home from Iraq we brought our dogs home. And as we're sort of winding down our forces in Afghanistan we're winding down our dog forces, too. And I think probably there's only a couple of hundred dogs on the ground now in combat zones. And there's roughly around 1,000 or 1,200 dogs currently employed in the military.
REHMSo then they're not just sniffing out for IEDs. What other roles do they play?
FRANKELRight. So on your typical base in the United States, if you have a kennel or you have dog teams who are employed there, their jobs range from base patrol or they might work at traffic checkpoints. You know, people coming on and out of base. And they are trained to smell drugs, also, you know, in addition to explosives. And they're also just there for -- to act as a deterrent. A lot of handlers will tell you that in police work or patrol work, that dogs are just great deterrents. They -- somebody who might have bad intentions or might be planning something, will probably think twice if they see a dog around.
REHMHow young could a dog be when a handler or trainer decides this dog is not going to make it?
FRANKELI think -- well, if you have good handler, if you have someone with a lot of experience, it doesn't take long to figure out that maybe this dog, while they might be good at detection work, maybe they don't have the right kind of personality. There was one dog I got to meet in Colorado at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Her name was Boda (sp?). She was very sweet. After she decided that I was okay she was pretty nice to me.
FRANKELAnd she was a wonderful detection dog. But when they would bring her into an environment, even just an empty parking lot, she would get scared of something -- an inanimate object, for some reason, would put her off her game. And they worked with her a lot and she improved, but not enough where they felt like it was safe to put her in a combat situation because if the dog doesn't have confidence or if the dog isn't sort of the right temperament, then it not only puts them at a disadvantage, but it puts anyone who's relying on them at a disadvantage.
FRANKELSo they need to be able to sort of weather a lot. They go through ballistics training, which means that they have to sort of get used to the sound of explosives and…
FRANKELAnd also the sense of loading on and off a helicopter, you know, that's not like getting on a plane.
REHMAnd really, to human ears, getting on and off a helicopter…
REHM…just really so loud. And dogs seem sensitive to loud noises.
FRANKELThey are, because, of course, like many of their senses, their hearing is much better than ours as well.
FRANKELSo they do have harder time with sort of the loud bangs and the sounds of a helicopter.
REHMSo when did you start writing your blog about dogs?
FRANKELIt was in January of 2010. So over four years ago, I was working with Tom Ricks, who writes about defense issues. And he was an Iraq war correspondent for the Washington Post. And he also loves dogs. So as I got to know him over the first few months we were working together, he would tell me stories about his dogs. And while I was helping with his blog and editing, but also helping him find photos. And I came across an image of a Marine battalion and their dogs, their bomb-sniffing dogs.
FRANKELAnd one thing that really struck me about this photo was how happy they looked. It was very contrary to sort of what -- when you get accustomed to the images coming out of a war zone you get used to seeing RPG blasts and, you know, soldiers with Kevlar and, you know, their Ray Ban sunglasses and helmets. But these guys were just laying around with their dogs, like they would be at home. And everyone, including the dogs, looked really happy.
REHMSo they really provide that kind of comfort, as well as the kind of scent perfection that they develop.
FRANKELYes. And this is sort of the other job that they do. And the other job that they're not -- maybe not trained for, which is just to be dogs and to be good companions and to, you know, it's more than just that they remind, I think, people of home when they're in a combat zone.
REHMRebecca Frankel. Her new book is titled, "War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History and Love." I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd welcome back. Rebecca Frankel has written a book all about war dogs. Those dogs that are trained to sniff out IEDs, but also provide comfort, companionship for soldiers serving abroad. Rebecca, talk about how the dogs signals to the solider, Marine, that there is an IED in front of him.
FRANKELRight. So the dogs are trained to alert by sitting. So while they're moving around and they're sort of following the way scent moves on the ground, that when they pick up on that odor they'll sit down. Sometimes they'll lay down. But usually if a handler is really in tune or close to their dog they'll be able to tell well in advance of the actual alert because the dog's sniffing might become more focused or they'll get this sort of look on their face or their tail might start to wag. And so the closer they are and the longer they've been training together the faster a handler can recognize that.
REHMAnd what is it exactly about the IED that gives off this scent that the dog picks up?
FRANKELWell, I think mostly it's just a result of how excellent their ability to pick up odor is. That, you know, whether or not an IED might be buried three feet underground or it's been in the ground for a very long time, the dog should be able to pick up odor. And in fact, sometimes, they'll be able to pick up residual odor, which can be confusing, but also, you know, it's better to be safe than sorry.
REHMSo what happens when the dog spots or scents an IED? Then what happens? What happens next?
FRANKELSo in their training they teach their dogs to be still until…
FRANKEL…they're giving a command because if the dog is on odor and they have detected an IED you don't want them moving around. You want to make sure that you sort of figure out where the clear path is. And then you want to very carefully call the dog back to you. So they're trained to sit and wait. And usually what happens is they're given a reward, which is either a chew toy or what they call Kong. And so the dog…
REHMWith peanut butter or something in it.
FRANKELWith peanut butter, right. And so what happens is the really smart dogs sometimes in training what they'll do is they'll sit down and they cast their head back because they know that the toy is coming. But so what it does is it gets the dog excited about doing their job. And all of the praise that they get after finding something is very, very positive.
REHMHow does the IED get put out of commission?
FRANKELRight. So after the dog and the handler have decided that, you know, yes, there is an IED here. What they do is they call in the explosive ordinance detail. And so then the experts who can dismantle the bomb come in. And sometimes what they'll do is they'll blow it up in place or they find a way to safely remove it. But at that point the handler and the dog's job is mostly over. So they get called back and then the other team gets called in.
REHMAnd then they're off again, looking for more. But here's an email from Bill. Actually, it was a posting on Facebook. "The military war dogs need to be treated as U.S. veterans and brought home for retirement, not left in the field as surplus equipment. Are they ever left in the field?"
FRANKELSo no, they are not. They are never left behind. You know, after Vietnam, unfortunately, the dogs were left behind. And that is a blemish I think the military will be struggling against for as long as people are aware that, you know, dogs were a part of what we did there and for as long as dogs are a part of our military. However, acknowledging that, I think what people need to understand is that that doesn't happen now.
FRANKELAnd, in fact, dogs are not left behind. And they're not treated like pieces of equipment. They are treated like an invested capability, from a sort of a military perspective. But when it comes to how they're treated on the ground by their handlers or the people that surround them in the field, this is not how they're treated. In fact, they're treated just like any other soldier. If they were to become injured, they would get medevaced out. They would get immediately removed from the scene and every measure possible would be taken to save them.
FRANKELAnd I think that what people should realize, too, is that because the way, you know, handlers are so reliant on their dogs, but also how much they love them -- if we can use that word -- that they do love them. They wouldn't stand for this. So if there was any truth to these rumors that are I think unfortunately circulating on social media, that they would be the first ones to step up and say, you know, no. We're not going to allow this.
REHMSo you're saying every dog in use in war is brought back to the States.
FRANKELYes. And so part of the training that handlers go through, particularly in their pre-deployment training, is that they learn to tell whatever unit they're with that whatever happens to us, I stay with my dog and my dog stays with me. So were the dog to become injured during combat, then the handler would be with him the whole way through. If the handler were to be injured, then the dog would actually leave the scene with him as well. So they deploy as a team from the United States. And if that's where their home station is then they return to the United States together as a team.
REHMThere's one story you tell in the book about a dog who is hit in the leg. And a number of soldiers rush up to wrap that leg to stop the bleeding.
FRANKELYes. I think that -- and I've read a lot of stories like that, actually. In World War II and in Vietnam that when something happens to the dog there is no -- there's really no end to what the people who surround him will do to rescue him. And in that instance it was Marc Whittaker who was deployed to Afghanistan with his dog Anax. And they got caught in the middle of the road and there was gunfire coming from all directions.
FRANKELAnd actually he put himself on top of his dog -- just an instinct -- because he was wearing Kevlar and his dog wasn't at the time. And he used his own body as a shield. And then after he was hit, there were other soldiers around him that pulled together to make sort of a kit to carry the dog and they, you know, they flagged someone down, got him on the truck and then got the dog on the medevac out. And he did lose his leg, but he is now happily retired and living with Whittaker in Texas. So…
REHMHe did lose his leg as a result?
FRANKELHe did. They weren't able to save it.
REHMWow. Yeah, there are so many stories in your book about the relationships that occur between these soldiers and their dogs. And one wonders how you match a soldier, a Marine, with the dog. Is the trainer going to be the partner?
FRANKELSo I think, you know, it's like a relationship with people, with colleagues. So sometimes you don't always hit it off right away. And I've heard stories where dogs who have been -- maybe had a good relationship with the handler that came before the new handler. And they, you know, they sort of act like I'm not going to listen to you. They want to do their own thing. And they have an idea about how to do their job and it's -- for both of them, for the dog and for the handler, it's an adjustment.
FRANKELBut usually what happens is that after some care and attention and some time together training that a bond is formed. And some handlers will talk about certain dogs the way we might talk about our first loves from way back when. And those dogs hold a special place in their heart moving forward. But I think it's just sort of a matter of getting used to someone and getting used to something new and then doing the job at hand.
REHMHow far back do we go using dogs in war?
FRANKELSo globally quite a ways back, thousands of years, actually. The Egyptians used dogs to carry messages, the Romans used dogs to protect their fortresses, and provide -- act as guard dogs. But in the United States, really dogs sort of were on the battlefield and, you know, in the Revolutionary War and in the Civil War, but they served a very unofficial capacity. They were stray dogs or mascot dogs who just sort of adopted a soldier and then went wherever they went.
FRANKELAnd whether they were, you know, would go and find water sources or maybe catch a stray chicken, you know, it was a very different kind of relationship that they had. And it wasn't until World War II, 1942, that dogs were officially made part of the military, where they were actually trained and those sense that we were talking about were honed to be military dogs.
REHMSo in World War II, once those dogs were trained and the veterans came home, the dogs stayed behind.
FRANKELActually, in World War II, they came back. And…
REHMThey did come back?
FRANKELThey did come back. And so, in fact, the dogs were so popular at home, the public -- because, in part, I think the reason why that happened is because the military called upon the public to donate their dogs for service. And so a lot of these dogs had been house dogs and they had been, you know, donated…
FRANKEL…by family. So just like the soldiers, their sons that they had sent to war, these families were waiting for their dogs to come back. And they were so popular, I think they had something like 15,000, you know, requests to adopt these dogs that had come back, just within the first, you know, five months of their return. So they were absolutely not left behind. But it was a different -- it was different way to deploy dogs then.
REHMBut surely those would not have been pups. They would have had to be trained from an older age.
FRANKELThey were. And so it was different. You know, they had to figure out back then, what were the right breeds, and then what was the right temperament and the right the right size. Some smaller dogs, like Jack Russell Terriers are very good at sniffing things out. But they don't maybe provide the same kind of intimidating presence that a German Shepherd would. So it took a while to figure out what breeds were right and what dogs were right, but they did. And it was a lot German Shepherds and Dobermans and some of them were mixed dogs, were mutts, which we don't see today, but they all had the right -- I don't know -- the right attitude for work, I guess.
REHMIn the Second World War did they also go after human enemies, not just bombs?
FRANKELThey did. There's one great story about Chips, who is one of the more decorated dogs in American history. And he belonged to a family called the Wren family. They were from Pleasantville, N.Y. And he was notorious for biting the garbage man and for chasing neighbors. And he also, apparently, was very protective of their daughter, whose name was Gail. And he used to follow her to school and then walk her back home.
FRANKELAnd when the call came for dogs the family decided that maybe the neighborhood would appreciate if they, you know, Chips seemed like he might be a good war dog. And he actually was, I think, on his first deployment in Sicily. He was -- it was reported that he overtook a box of gunnery fighters. And he went in and survived a bullet wound and disabled them in one fell swoop.
REHMWow. And I'm talking with Rebecca Frankel. She's written a wonderful new book, titled, "War Dogs." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got lots of callers. Let's go to Kris, in South Lyon, Mich. Hi, you're on the air.
KRISHi. I just wanted to let you know that there is a War Dog Memorial in South Lyon, Mich., on Milford Road. And it's where War Dogs are buried. I've driven past it. I've never gone into it. And it's really impressive. And from what I understand some veterans are maintaining it. And one of the local developers has donated land. And I believe they have, you know, some dogs that are buried there from, you know, a very long time ago, too. So I don't know if you were aware that that existed.
FRANKELI think actually I might have heard about this. There are small memorials all over the country to these dogs. And I think that I've heard -- and if it's the same one, that a very big push has been made in recent years to keep up this area and to make sure that, you know, the resting place of these dogs has been well maintained. But I'd love to see photos.
FRANKELYeah, and hear maybe more about it.
REHMBut nothing here in Washington? No memorials here in Washington.
FRANKELNot that I'm aware of, no.
REHMYeah. Good thought. Thanks for calling, Kris. Let's go to Vern, in Palm Coast, Fla. Hi, you're on the air.
VERNWell, first of all it's a pleasure to be on any planet where Diane is (unintelligible) also.
VERNThe question is does any of our -- do any of our adversaries have a similar program? And parenthetically back in WWII, did the Germans have a similar program? And if so, do we end up with multiple dogs on the same battlefield? Thank you.
FRANKELIt's a good question. You know, historically the United States was actually lagging in getting dogs on the battlefield. In World War I our allies and our enemies were using dogs to great success. And we, you know, the U.S. soldiers I've read were sort of jealous enough that they actually asked to borrow the British messenger dogs because they were at times the only way that they could get messages from the front, back from command and vice versa.
REHMAnd were they using German Shepherds as well?
FRANKELThey used multiple breeds, but the German Shepherd has, I think, a cross different (unintelligible) sort of a reliable and popular breed to use. And today, yes, our allies are using dogs. The Brits have a fantastic program. They use different dogs than we do. They actually use Setters and Springer Spaniels for bomb detection. And Italy has a force. The Israeli Army also has a very, very aggressive and affective dog team. In fact, the Marines have sent contingents from our forces to train with them. So we have taken on some of the lessons that they've passed over that…
REHMTo create a more aggressive dog?
FRANKELNot necessarily for aggression. We have learned over time that actually it's better for dogs to work off leash. That, you know, it is more of an advantage to have them a little bit free to walk ahead and to do search and then to learn to call them back from a great distance. And I think that's something the Marines picked up from the idea.
REHMI'm sure many folks are wondering what happens to these dogs when they come back home.
FRANKELSo it sort of depends on how the dog has weathered the experience of war, also where they are in their career and then their health. So a lot of times dogs will come back and then they'll get sent out on another deployment.
REHMOh, I see.
FRANKELSo just like our soldiers and Marines they serve multiple deployments. But then when they're ready to retire and they have ways of letting us know that, whether it's their health or sort of basically they're energy, that is a decision the handler and the kennel master and the veterinarian get together and sort of figure out what's the best next step for this dog. And most times they are retired from service and they get to live life as a house dog.
REHMRebecca Frankel and her new book titled, "War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History and Love." More of your comments, your email after a short break. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. There are a great many colored photographs in Rebecca Frankel's new book "War Dogs," one of which shows Lance Corporal Trevor Smith, who is a Marine dog handler, taunting Grek (sp?) , a combat tracker dog. Now, tell me how that works.
FRANKELSo the handlers do have to train and teach their dogs to channel their aggression. There's a lot of bite training and bite work so they have to get the dog accustomed to running down a perpetrator or suspect and biting them in a particular area where they have the advantage, given that sort of height discrepancy of possibly a very big and tall person and a dog. But also they have to be able to signal to their dog what is a threat and what isn't. And that can be as simple as just as a command. And when there's that trust and sort of a bond between the dog and the handler, that when there's a threat and the handler lets them know there's a threat then they can be a very aggressive and fearsome dog.
REHMBut how do they turn that on and off? You really witnessed that.
FRANKELYeah so, you know, and I think sometimes handlers are, you know, happy to show off the skill that they have with their dogs to sort of show you how tough they can be. So I was at a pre-deployment training course in Yuma, Ariz. and I was hanging out with some of these handlers in between training. And I was petting this dog Serrius (sp?) who is a very big dog, he's a very big German Shepherd. And he was enjoying my company and we were getting along just fine.
FRANKELAnd his handler said to me, well, do you want to see him be tough, and I said, okay, sure. And I took a few steps back and then he just said, Serrius, watch her. And then all of a sudden he was this big ferocious dog who was ready to bite me if he had been so commanded. And I don't think our few minutes of getting along really factored into it and all that. It's because they're really a one-person dog.
REHMNow that would make me worry if I were to adopt not of these dogs.
FRANKELRight. And that's something that's certainly taken into consideration. So any home or any family that wants to adopt a military dog, you know, they really do look very carefully at that particular dog and that home that they might be going to, to see if it's a good fit. Now some of these dogs, if they're not in a threatening position, you know, are going to be just fine with the kids and with lots of different animals. And some of them, you know, might need a different kind of a home, a home without kids possibly or lots more room to run around in. But that's really true, I think, of any animal.
REHMSure. Of course. My little Maxie guards me very, very closely. So most of the time I would gather it's the handler or the soldier, marine who's worked with the dog that comes home with that dog?
FRANKELSo, yes. Usually what happens is when a dog goes up for adoption, in addition to the thousands of people who are, you know, out in the public and in the civilian world who are willing to adopt a retiring military dog, that usually there's a long line of handlers who have worked with that dog throughout his or her career that would want to be the person to bring them home.
FRANKELAnd I think sometimes it's a little difficult. I think each handler feels like they have a certain close relationship with their dog, and I'm sure they do. And I think usually what happens is that the last handler to work with him might get priority, so depending on the situation.
REHMRebecca, you really got into this. You must love dogs.
FRANKELI do. I do love dogs. We grew up with a dog in our family. And I think...
REHMA big dog or small dog?
FRANKELHe was -- now when I look at pictures he looks much smaller than I remember him. He was some sort of a mix between a terrier and maybe a lab. He was a very sweet dog. He was one of those dogs I think that I see pictures now of my sister and I kind of climbing all over him and he's just sort of sitting there happy as can be.
REHMThey sort of took it, yeah. Okay. Let's go back to the phones and to, let's see, Louis in Baton Rouge, La. Hi there.
LOUISHi, Diane. Hi, Rebecca. I don't know if you're aware of the recent National Geographic cover story about war dogs, but since I've read that, I've really been obsessed with this subject. I mean, I'm just, like, astonished by their nobility. And I'm actually, like, now researching a movie about this subject. And I wondered if your blogs are still available. And also would they include contact information and what's the price of your book? And I can just take those answers off the air.
FRANKELYes. You know, I think these stories are really infectious. That was certainly my experience with them that once I sort of dug in it's an endlessly rich and interesting and wide community that sort of exists outside of the military itself. There are a lot of people who have sort of taken up military dogs and are supporting them in lots of different ways. And so, yes, the blog -- I'm still doing the blog and I think that it's something I will be able to do for a long time. It's, you know, the kind of subject that just continues to give back. And I'm looking forward to writing about dogs for a long time.
REHMSure. I'm sure your book is sort of priced at the usual twenty-something.
FRANKELTwenty-six dollars, if I'm -- yes.
REHMTwenty-six dollars. Okay. In one photograph, I see staff sergeant Pasqual Gutierrez carrying his dog. The dog does not look wounded. Why would he be carrying the dog on his shoulder?
FRANKELRight. So that photograph is actually one that I took. I was at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. And they were hosting what they called the canine dog trials which brought in handlers from all over the country from all different branches. And they were competing with their dogs. And that happened to be the sort of physical part of their competition. And it involves a long run with their dogs as sort of like a race. And it involved the dog carry. And so they were at the bottom of a -- not a very tall hill but a very long slanting hill and they had to carry the dog up the hill and then carry the dog back down.
REHMInteresting. Talk about dogs and PTSD.
FRANKELRight. So I think the thing that -- you know, it sort of -- it makes good sense, right, to understand that, you know, dogs like people aren't going to go to war and be immune from the experiences there. You know, it's the same chaos, the same trauma, the same violence. And so some dogs, like some people, are more affected by this than others.
FRANKELAnd whether or not it's something they're able to work through with maybe extra training, sometimes they become very scared where they may not have been beforehand. They're scared of loud noises or they're scared of even just the sensation of sort of the intensity of being on say a night mission where they get loaded up into a helicopter and then they get dropped down into the dark.
FRANKELAnd there was one dog in particular that I wrote about, his name is Odie, who his handler said that when they were out on missions that he just couldn't relax. But when they were back on base he did his job just fine. So he knew that the ante had been upped. He sort of understood that it was the real thing and just couldn't perform. So Odie came back to the states with his handler and continued to work as a garrison dog. But, you know, just wasn't a dog that did well in war.
REHMDo they ever supply medication to some of these dogs?
FRANKELThey do. You know, it's -- they call it canine PTSD. And it's really been only the last few years, I think, since they're seeing the affects of combat on dogs that have been deployed. And they're starting to take it and address it a little more seriously. And so they get doggy Prozac and other drugs that are sort of similar to the kinds of medication that humans might get in different doses of course. But they are medicated occasionally for this.
REHMHow do you think doing this work has affected you, not just your thinking about dogs because you clearly already had an affinity for dogs, but how do you think it's affected you overall?
FRANKELI think it's given me a much clearer picture of what servicemen and women experience in combat. And I think it makes me appreciate so much more how distant most of the country is from this experience. You know, we have an all-volunteer force and I think the country is tired of being at war. But I don't think we always fully understand the small community that is participating, that is doing the fighting for us. And as a result, I'm a bit more protective of the military and of course of handlers and the job that they do. I appreciate it more. I understand it better and I have a tremendous respect for them.
REHMI'm looking at a photograph of Leila, a lab or a lab mix who was found when she was a puppy. And yet they managed to train her?
FRANKELSo actually Leila was a dog that those marines found in Afghanistan. So she was a stray dog that they kind of adopted. Now it is actually against regulations for soldiers to pick up stray dogs. And there's a lot of thought on both ends of this argument whether or not those regulations should be relaxed. And actually for a unit that might already have a dog, adopting a stray dog that hasn't been vaccinated or hasn't, you know, been trained, this actually poses a danger to them.
FRANKELBut I do think, and this is certainly true throughout history that, you know, soldiers who have adopted dogs along the way, they have proven not only to be wonderful companions but actually their own brand of war dogs that warn them to danger or, you know, keep watch over them at night.
REHMRebecca Frankel and her books is titled "War Dogs." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to, let's see, Mary in Boerne, Texas. You're on the air.
MARYYes, hi. Thank you. I enjoy your show. I was just curious as to whether or not the author was away of the story of the little four-pound Yorkie called Smokey who was found in a foxhole by some American GIs during World War II. And they adopted this little Yorkie who eventually helped them. They taught him how to do tricks, so he entertained soldiers. And they just absolutely adored this little guy. And there's actually a statue of him someplace. I'm not for sure where. But I just -- whether or not the author was aware of the story of Smokey.
FRANKELYes. Actually I've heard of Smokey and I have talked at length with the man who found him and who trained him. His name is Bill Nguyen. I believe he lives in Ohio. He's in his 90's now and he still speaks with absolute joy about this tiny little dog that he had. He found her and trained her to do tricks. And then what he did is he brought her into GI hospitals and helped brighten moods. And he's written a book about her and his experience with her.
FRANKELAnd she actually did more than just lift spirits. I think one time they needed to -- they were on a -- at an air landing field and they couldn't link cables from one end to the other. And it was -- they were being attacked. And so what they did is they attached the cable to her caller and she ran through this tunnel to the other end because he was calling her. And so she saved them, you know, days of work by doing that. So, yeah, she's a special dog.
REHMWow. Wow. Very impressive. All right. Let's go to Lucia in Olney, Md. Hi, you're on the air.
LUCIAThank you, dear. My question is, how are the adopted dogs taken care in terms of health issues, vaccines, et cetera? Will the military have their own veterinary take care of them? Because I saw an article very -- showing that it's very difficult to adopt a dog. And at the same time, they show pictures of adopted dogs and I could detect that the families were in very depressed situations.
FRANKELWell, so I think, you know, the military right now is experiencing lots of budgetary challenges. So, you know, every care and attention is given to these dogs throughout their career. But once they are adopted, part of the understanding and the agreement of the people who are adopting them, whether they're handlers or civilians is that the dog is then fully their responsibility.
FRANKELBut of course some of these dogs have unique ailments or, you know, residual problems from their time in the military. And actually Ron Aiello who is a handler in Vietnam who went there with his dog Stormy has, for the last ten years, been running the U.S. War Dogs Association. And he has recently launched a program where he is helping fund prescriptions drugs and also potentially surgery should these retired dogs need it, so they have care after their careers are over.
REHMWonderful. Here's a tweet. "Is there any gender discrimination in the dog military?"
FRANKELThat is a very good question and I think a long time ago that, yes, I think that maybe males were preferred because females presented, let's say, a distraction at certain times. But none that I'm aware of. You know, it's really more about the personality of the dog than it is anything else.
REHMSo now it's both male and female.
FRANKELOh, yes. Oh, yes.
REHMAnd here is an underscore to that statement from Jessica who says, "I wanted to share my experience from when I was deployed to Afghanistan. Our dog Neena was trained as a bomb dog but I wanted to also express how she was extremely therapeutic for the paratroopers I was stationed with. She helped comfort our hard-charging soldiers." And I'm sure that's true of many of these dogs.
FRANKELYes. So one of the things that's of course interesting about this is, you know, you talk to marines and soldiers who are trained to be sort of stoic. Emotions don't always factor into this work and yet it is extremely taxing on your emotions and your ability, I think, probably to keep your head on straight.
FRANKELAnd I heard one story, Sean Luloffs (sp?) who was one of the very first air force handlers to go into Iraq in 2004 went with his dog Aslon. And one of the rules he had is while they were working nobody could pet Aslon, no one could play with him. He needed to sort of maintain that mindset. And he would tell me that they had a lot of bad days, of course, because the -- there's a lot of deaths that occurred early on in the war. IEDs were prevalent. We didn't have a strong force to combat them.
FRANKELAnd he said after one really bad day he watched one marine just broke down and used his dog and just put his head on his shoulder and cried. But he might have done that to another marine in his battalion but the dog sort of allowed this relief, and just sat there and let him cry.
REHMRebecca Frankel. Her new book is titled "War Dogs." Congratulations.
FRANKELThank you so much.
REHMThanks for being here.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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