The Best Defense

Rebecca's War Dog of the Week: And the winners are…

By Rebecca Frankel

Best Defense Chief Canine Competition

In last week's post I sent a dispatch from Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas where I attended the DoD's K-9 Trials -- a dog team competition that hadn't been hosted there since 9/11.

The competition itself spanned three long days. Each day every team had to complete a series of new tasks, which stretched from detaining unruly and aggressive "suspects" they encountered on a patrol, to multiple cordon searches for explosives (or for the narcotics dogs, drugs), and finally to the Iron Dog challenge. The competition overall was designed to push each team to the edge, forcing them to dig into all areas of their handling-skills and to call up the full-length of their training. But without question the Iron Dog -- a six-mile course outfitted with a series of obstacles, including a dog carry up and down a 100 meter incline, a mud crawl, a dash through a low-rising river, a few walls to hup over with the canines, and a human carry (basically a fireman's dummy that I heard weighed upwards of 150 lbs) -- was the most arduous leg of the trial. On this day contestants, who were judged by noted experts in the field on a scale of points, were rated as they had been days prior, but the Iron Dog was without a doubt, a race to the finish.

I stationed myself at the first obstacle -- the dog carry. The weight and size of these dogs varies greatly. The first German shepherd to get hauled up the hill weighed 98 pounds. (That's a lot of weight to begin with, but not all of these dogs enjoy getting a bumpy ride on their handlers' shoulders and struggled the whole way up, and all the way back down.) A few teams opted out of this obstacle altogether, taking the ten-minute penalty rather than enduring the climb. But more than just a remarkable feat to watch, this part of the challenge is a great example of how important a skill carrying a dog actually is when these teams are downrange for real. Handlers do not leave their dogs behind; they must be able to bear the weight of their four-legged partners. One of the lessons a handler learns in preparing to deploy is that when he or she is assigned a mission they must convey to the mission's commander one unrelenting and crucial thing: Where I go, my dog goes.

It was not a remarkably cool week in San Antonio, and the Texas sun, which drove temperatures in the mid-90s, coupled with oppressive humidity, made for challenging conditions for not only handlers but for the dogs as well. There were veterinary techs stationed around the course checking the dogs to make sure their temperatures hadn't climbed to a dangerous level and on hand to douse their backs with cool water. While no dogs were seriously injured, I did hear that a couple weren't able to withstand the heat and couldn't complete the final run.

But in the end, most of the teams crossed the finish line at a run -- hot, tired, bruised and blistered, but deservedly proud, with their dogs trotting in fine form beside them.  

Following is a small gallery of photos from the event along with the official list of winners. Special thanks to photographer Christy Bormann for generously sharing these images with us, and who also happened to be great company during the competition.

Official Results from the 2012 DoD K-9 Trials

Patrol: 3rd Place: SFC Dorsey; 2nd Place: Sgt. Guajardo; 1st Place: MA1 Brooks

Explosive Detection: 3rd Place: Sgt. Palmer; 2nd Place: TSgt Brown; 1st Place: MA1 Brooks

Drug Detection: 3rd Place: SPC Ventura; 2nd Place: SPC Cartwright; 1st Place: Sgt Helm

Iron Dog: 3rd Place: SSgt. Handy; 2nd Place: TSgt Kitts; 1st Place: Sgt. Guajardo

Top Dog: MA1 Brooks

Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Free Press.

Christy Bormann

The Best Defense

Dempsey's not so smart -- and he may be wrong about the utility of mass formations

By Robert Goldich

Best Defense guest respondent

I've gone in the other direction regarding Gen. Dempsey.

A bit to my surprise, given how much he was praised before he became the CSA by people who I really respect and admire, I am becoming increasingly disenchanted with him.  

I see official remarks and documents that seem to me to be nothing more than a stringing together of contemporary pop phrases in military-strategic affairs, dispensing conventional wisdom. There seems to me to be a lack of intellectual rigor in his published statements of policy. I found his first CJCS reading list to be amazingly puerile, filled with that most suspicious of categories of written material, best sellers on general booklists. And while as an historian I'm suspicious of excessively precise historical analogies, I'm also concerned that excessive soft-peddling of rising Chinese truculence and expansionist probing will encourage a Chinese Sparta to indeed threaten us Americo-Athenians. Gen. Dempsey should recall that just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you, or at least willing to try in times of crisis.

Unlike Tom, I'm very concerned that by incessant remarks about how "mass formations" won't be necessary. We'll play into the hands of adversaries who decide that they aren't equally dubious about their utility.  

Perhaps we can modify the alleged statement of Trotsky to read: "You may not be interested in conventional war, but conventional war may be interested in you." I don't think we're as bad off as the British Army in 1914, because we have a very large reserve force by comparison and a much greater diffusion of fairly recent military service within the general male population (and, of course, a growing number of younger women). But there's no question that for a prolonged conventional conflict beyond a certain unpredictable level, an AVF is always going to have less trained mobilization potential than  larger draft-fed force that generates a lot of recently-trained individual reservists. There are always tradeoffs.

And this doesn't even touch on industrial mobilization. As far as I can tell, nobody but nobody in officialdom is thinking about this (if they are, they're quiet about it). Trained manpower can always be generated a lot faster than the material to equip it. If we had had to put the very large ground forces we had in action from mid-1944 to mid-1945 into the field in 1942 and even 1943, as well as being much more poorly trained, they would have had a lot of inferior weapons.  

Robert L. Goldich retired from the Congressional Research Service in 2005 as its senior military manpower analyst. Currently he is consulting and drafting an A-1 book on the history of conscription.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images