A realistic fiction describing the process of being an IDD dog handler/
|They say that every time you smoke a cigarette you shave seven minutes off of your life time, thus death slowly crept closer to me as I snubbed the life out of a cigarette and flung it into the burn pit. The squad leader signaled to his marines to get ready to push. Push meaning start the patrol, thus I reluctantly placed my Kevlar over my head and buttoned the chin strap.
The IDD (IED Detection Dog) beside me jumped to his furry little feet and wagged his tail. The dog's name, Raider. Raider became exited, he knew he was about to work, working meant he would lay down on the strongest concentration of odor he could find and get his toy, the Kong. Odor being a large variety of explosive chemicals used for IEDs.(Improvised Explosive Device.)
The weather in Afghanistan during the month of May is always sunny and an excruciating one hundred and eight degrees to a deathly one hundred and twenty. This only seems worse for us, the marines, because we are wearing all our combat gear, which is an estimated ninety pounds with more or less determining your job. My gear consisted of more because I had gear for the dog and myself.
As the patrol crept out of the patrol base it turned right and began to move down hill towards a small village. The wind blows, and I raise my face to it, like always disappointed, it's not refreshing because it feels more like particularly large hair dryer. Raider excitedly and repeatedly tries his chances at running ahead of me but I pull on the leash and tell him heal. Every time he backs up to my left side looking a little defeated like he thought he could just run off.
I am the first man in the patrol, so Raider can lay down if he smells anything before any marine has a chance to step on any IEDs. It's also the most dangerous position in the patrol. Normally the first to get shot at. Skip the guy behind me in the patrol wearily followed me glancing around nervously and then snapping his attention back to Raider. This wasn't our first patrol, nor would it be our last. We were about half way through our deployment, and wanted to make it til the end.
As we neared the village the locals became more numerous. The locals hear wake before the sun rises and work all day. The little kids run errands for their elders and such. You can tell how much the locals like you by the way they act. These locals all looked and smiled or waved or started speaking rapidly in pashtu. This is when the squad leader leans his ear near the terp (interpreter) to hear anything of interest is being said. We pass through the bazar which is heavily populated with shop owners selling their wares. It's similiar to a giant multitude of lawn sales.
As I waslk through this place my eyes scan everything rapidly with determined attention to detail. Every roof, every window, every face, every doorway is searched all are potential threats, every hand, even the dogs. Some dogs are stray, some are pets but the majority are violent. Any that dares come so close as to be within reach of Raider is my enemy. I cant allow any local animal or wild life to get close to Raider to protect him from disease.
This country has no rules, only the ones that we give them. When they are finished with something they drop it or throw t wherever. You can tell were the inhabited places are just by seeing the piles of garbage lining the roads that seem to give birth to more garbage. The smell is unforgiveably pungeant as well. I clear the bazar and come into a large circular area with roads leading out and into it like a giant cross or plus sighn. This place is normally bustling with sheep herders and pedestrian traffic of all kinds. The very few cars in this are always seemed to be wedged into this place. Today was different though.
My gaze glided serenely over the quiet terrain. I held my fist up balled and told Raider to heal. My fist was indicating to the rest of the patrol to halt. Skip held his fist up and it was a chain reaction all the way back to the sixteenth marine. An infantry marine squad is comprised of three fire teams of four,and a sqaud leader. This patrol had those thirteen and three attatchments, two machine gunners carrying a medium machine gun and ammo between the two of them, and me. Raider looked up at me awaiting my command, I awaited the squad leader. He arrived with the terp sticking to him like a shadow.
I didnt even bother saying anything, he saw the normally energetic and lively street empty, with no sighn of life except for the trash heaps and random objects gliding across the world riding the wind. "Clear the area with raider, make sure there's no IEDs here. What do you need for security?" the squad leader's eyes never stopped searching the area as he spoke to me.
"Just give me two following behind, make sure they dont step anywhere the dog hasnt cleared yet. I would also feel safe if the gun team set up covering that road to the west." I replied and looked at Raider. He wagged his tail and I scratched his ear, he lapped happily at my hand oblivious to the danger he was in.
The squad leader left my side with the terp trailing behind. A few minutes later Skip and Mason took up position behind me at a slight angle to my left and right.They nodded to me, I nodded back, the silent statement of a marine in a combat environment. Those two movements are a whole conversation to a marine. "I'm ready, are you?" "Yeah Im ready lets go."
I looked to see the two machine gunners drop into place facing west down the road."Raider! heal, sit. Good boy" I unhooked his leash and wrapped it around my shoulders.
"Raider, hunt it up boy." I waved my hand as if revealing the ground around me to him and he spun in a circle and ran back to where skip stood and plopped on the ground. He looked at me patiently waiting for his payment, the Kong.
The temperature seemed to drop two hundred degrees. No one moved, no one twitched a muscle, no one took a breath. I waved my hand again "Raider hunt it up boy."
Enthusiastically the dog jumped up touched his nose to the ground and spun in a full circle and laid back down. I looked at Skip and then at the squad leader who was already on the radio sending up a request to have EOD come out. EOD specializes in pinpointing the bombs and detonating them. Skip wanted to get the hell away from where he was tsanding I dont blame him. Very slowly he reached to his back pack and withdrew a metal detector. He slowly started to unfold it and the rapid crack crack crack of AK47 gunfire ripped through the silence and the ground exploded in spraying dirt as the impact sights of the rounds shot by me and towards the rest of the squad. I called Raider back to me and snapped his leash on.
I looked to see the muzzle flashed inside a house on the second floor of a building. "Shit!" I ran to a ditch and lept into it landing in a roll and then telling Raider "cover!" He laid down immediatly and stayed there safe from the rounds whizzing by.
I then yelled " Contact to my two o'clock one hundred and thirty meters second story window!"
After that I popped my M16 up in front of my face and began responding to the Taliban's violent call. The machine gun team sounded their call firing off bursts of angry retaliation.
The load popping of gunfire rippled through the air as the marines one by one began responding with their own weapon systems. The machine guns in rapid bursts, the M16's in rapid single shots. Mason landed in the ditch about twenty meters to my right and looked at me.
I glanced at him, and stopped firing long enough to pick up a round casing, point at myself and shake my head, indicating Im ok. Mason gave a thumbs up, and fired off a few rounds. Another marine Gomez landed in the ditch to my left about thirty meters away. The three of us resumed firing at the taliban in the building. Gomez had a SAW(squad automatic weapon). He squeezed off short bursts almost casually, as if bored of the firefight. The firefight lasted about twenty seven minutes. The squad leader yelled to cease fire because he saw no more gun fire coming from the building housing the Taliban fighters. I counted two in their nest, they didnt stand a chance agaisnt a squad of marines, they're plans got messed up somehow.
The Taliban arent stupid, they are a respectably crafty enemy. They placed the IED at the opening to the circle hoping we would step on it, and then while we set up an LZ (landing zone) and performed first aid on any wounded they would fire hoping to incapacitate further inb our numbers. They always have a get away planned. Mason and Gomez rose to their feet and began to move towards the building with the other two members of their fire team. The muzzles of their weapons trained steadily on the building. At this moment the getaway truck squeeled out from behind the building, the driver over in blood obviously wounded, driving with one hand and spraying an ak out the window with the other, classic simulation of a driveby. This happened so suddenly no one was prepared for it, I had just got to my feet Raider still laying down in the ditch shivering with fear, he didnt like loud noises.
The truck sped by and the air was rapidly poluted by a red mist. Twp marines fell. Skip and I were the first to Mason's side. Blood leaked from the corner of his mouth, he had a bullet wound in his thleft thigh and left forearm. His flak jacket was also cracked. "His ribs are broken." Skip said.
Gomez bounce to his knees and fired his saw, the rounds blasted towards the truck and shattered the windows killing the driver. In a pandamonium on grinding metal the truck spun and rolled landing wedged on a mound of rocks. "Im not hit!" gomez yelled.
"Corpsman up!" I screamed.
The corpsman is a navy sailer trained in medical practices, both usual and combat. He dropped beside us and began examining Mason. "Doc what do you need us to do?" Skip asked.
"Keep him awake and keep him distracted while I work." He ordered. " He's gone into shock."
The squad leader was right behind doc and speaking into the raidio calling in a medevac.
The helo got there and brought Mason to safety. We had to sit around the IED and wait for EOD. They got there and detonated it. We were now heading back to the patrol base, we had been on the patrol for roughly five hours. As we passed through the bazar it was empty. I looked at my watch, it was only fifteen twenty. 3:20pm in civilian time. The locals wouldnt leave the bazar until artound seventeen hundred. The squad leader called the patrol to a halt and we stopped.
There was a line of rocks across the road. This was the Taliban's symbol indicating that there was an IED there. I was ordered to search it with Raider. "Raider sit, heal. Good boy, that's a good doggie." I told him and he wagged his tail and looked out in the direction of the supposed IED with enthusiasm. I took the leash off him. He went ridged, exited with enthusiam to work.
Being a dog handler was so much more on my plate then I first thought there would be. This dog looked foward to working because he was trained to think it was fun. He had no idea that when I sent him out to work I could very well be sending him to a very sudden death. This was the scariest moments of my life saying the word that would send my dog out searching for bombs. I spent every waking moment with this dog since I got into country. He was like my second half. I said the word " Back!."
Raider took off running and passed the line of rocks. He spun around and backtracked nose to the ground sniffing voraciously. He plopped onto his stomach and looked at me. So we called EOD again, the wait wasnt as long this time because EOD hadnt made it back to their base yet. They detonated the IED and found me patting Raider letting him play with his kong, drooling all his happiness onto the world for display. The EOD Staff Sergeant came up to me "Your lucky you still have a dog." He said bluntly.
This was disturbing for me to hear. "Huh?"
"He was laying directly on the pressure plate, it didnt blow the IED up because the pressure plate was rigged to only detonate around the weight of a marine in full combat gear, that sixty five pound dog just wasnt even close enough to set it off. You and your dog have a gaurdian angel son." the staff sergeant walked off and they departed shortly after reporting the details of the IED to our squadleader for the debrief.
I looked at Raider, he chewed happily on his Kong and looked back at me non challantly. "raider here."
Raider jumped to his feet and ran to my side. I rubbed his ear and took the kong from him. I knelt and told him he was a good boy. Took a deep breath and waited for the next time I would have to cross my fingers,and pray for our safety. This was only a few hours of time in a sevn month deployment of hell.