The Best Defense

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: Why medics train with MWDs in combat theater

By Rebecca Frankel

Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

In this photo a flight medic with C Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, is being lifted into a MEDEVAC helicopter with Luca, a military working dog with the 4th Stryker Brigade during training at FOB Spin Boldak in Afghanistan. The medics participating in this February exercise were not military veterinarians or vet techs, but were learning how to evacuate a MWD in the event that a handler was injured or otherwise unable to care for the dog himself. In combat theater a dog is treated as a full-fledged member of a unit and, if he were injured, would receive the same kind of emergency life-saving care and attention as any other solider, including the attention of a medic.  

Still, treating an injured canine in the heat of battle poses a unique set of challenges, especially if the dog is particularly protective of its handler or is known to bite (note the muzzle in this photo). When a dog team is out on a mission, the handler cannot be the only person in the unit who knows what kind of medical attention his dog will need or how it should be administered. All handlers are trained on how to treat their dogs, whether for dehydration, broken limbs, or blood loss. But when working outside the wire, many will carry cards detailing a kind of abbreviated "in case of emergency" instructions so someone else (hopefully a medic) will know how to treat their dogs if they are also wounded during missions.  

As one Army handler (who I interviewed for the War Dogs book) told me last year, the first person a savvy handler will get to know when assigned to a new unit is the medic. "Whatever you can do to help the medics out in your AO as a handler, that's what you do. You introduce your dog to them. You let them play, you know, get friendly with them." This handler wanted the medic, as well as the rest of his team, to know his dog and to care about his well being because they could be the ones in a position to save the dog's life.  

RIP MWD Bak: This is a photo of Bak, a dog who was killed in action on March 11 in Afghanistan. Few details about the circumstances of how Bak was killed have been made public, but a memorial page is active on Facebook, including an extensive photo gallery. His handler, Sgt. Molina, is reportedly fine and, as of Wednesday, was awaiting transfer back to the States.

Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.

Sgt. Michael Needham U.S. Army/Bak Facebook

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