K9 Veterans Day, cause for celebration
USAG YONGSAN — Dogs have played an important role in the welfare of families throughout the centuries, and this is especially true in the military. March 13 was designated National K9 Veterans Day in appreciation of the military dogs who serve side by side with Soldiers, and members of the 503rd Military Working Dog Detachment, United States Army Garrison Yongsan, recognize how the unit’s very own K9s contribute to the security of the installation and the local area.
The tradition of using canines for tactical purposes originates in Europe and was adopted by the U.S. military in the 1940s. In the beginning, dogs were typically used as sentries and messengers. As the scope of military operations grew in size and complexity, however, K9 units became an integral part of ensuring safety and security.
Today, K9 units are used for sniffing out improvised explosive devices, locating weapon caches down-range, and guarding against the entry of illegal narcotics or substances into military installations. With their superior sense of smell, K9s can also be used as “scouts” to track down suspects in an open area, saving law enforcement personnel much time and energy during operations.
In the case of the Republic of Korea, the majority of K9 unit operations involve explosives dog teams that commence a sweep of a certain location prior to the arrival of military personnel.
“A dog team acts as a psychological deterrent,” said Spc. Travis Smith, who has been a military working dog handler for the past three years. “The different capabilities of dog teams have definitely increased over the years and, just by our presence alone, people understand that security is being established in the area.”
Currently in Yongsan, there are seven K9s on active duty. The dogs undergo hours of rigorous training every day to hone skills that require strength, agility, and a high level of communication with their handlers. Military dogs are usually two years old when they get to their respective units and can serve up to 12 or 13 years depending on their health and skills.
There are K9s deployed all over the world, and crowds gather at military war dog memorials across the U.S. not only to commemorate the military dogs that have fallen while engaged in combat with Soldiers on the battlefield, but also to celebrate the special partnership that has developed over time.
“It’s a day to celebrate all the K9s that have come before,” said Pfc. Samantha Easley, who also works as a military working dog handler at the unit. “It’s also a day when we get to see everything that we’ve learned throughout the decades while working with military dogs, including the changes and the differences that have been made.”
In fact, for military dog handlers, the cause for celebration is not limited to a single day.
“We are with our dogs so much that every day is Veterans Day for us here,” said Staff Sgt. George Talkington, non-commissioned officer-in-charge of Yongsan Kennels. “They are a high priority. We want to make sure they are taken care of.”