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Dogs in Uniform

By John Ekdahl

Dogs serving in the United States military is nothing new. They were first used during the Revolutionary War as pack animals, and their responsibilities were expanded in the Civil War to include roles such as guards, messengers and mascots.

World War I marked their official entry into the United States military under the title of Military Working Dogs (often “War Dogs” for short). Along with facilitating communication by carrying messages between units, the dogs were also essential companions to soldiers who suffered through the psychological horrors of trench warfare. By World War II, the Army had launched the “K-9 Corps” which sought to turn the dogs into genuine soldiers. They were now being trained as scouts, mine detectors and sentries.

The Vietnam War saw nearly 5,000 actively serve between 1964 and 1975, of which only 204 were ever brought back home. This, unfortunately, was due to the Army officially listing them as “surplus military equipment”. Most were either euthanized or simply abandoned. Many Vietnam vets have said that having to abandon these dogs was one of the hardest things they have ever had to do.

Fast-forwarding to the present day military, our dogs are treated with much more respect. Call it a victory for canine rights. Gone are the “military equipment” classifications; these dogs are every bit a part of the unit and the bond they share with their handlers is nearly unbreakable.

On December 6, 2010 Pfc. Colton Rusk and his labrador retriever were on patrol in Afghanistan when Rusk was hit by sniper fire.

The pair was serving in Afghanistan when Rusk was hit by Taliban sniper fire on Dec. 6, 2010. Eli was the first to reach him where Rusk fell. The dog crawled on top of Rusk’s body, ferociously protecting his handler “[snapping at the] other Marines who rushed to [Rusk’s aide]. ‘Eli bit one of them,’ said Rusk’s father Darrell, recalling the story told to him by other Marines.”

In all of the articles that have been published since Rusk’s death — and there are many — this fallen handler and his war dog are always described the same way: They were best friends. Family members recount how Rusk broke protocol so that Eli could be by his side all the time, sharing his cot instead of sleeping in the kennel. Rusk’s mother, Kathy, told AP that “”Every time he called home, it was always about Eli. She said it gave her comfort to know her son “wasn’t alone over there.”

After Rusk’s family was informed of his death, they petitioned the military to allow them to adopt Eli. Despite his relative youth and value as a war dog, the military decided to make an exception and grant Eli an early retirement.

In 2009, Company D, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division (Forward) was deployed to southwest Afghanistan to establish a coalition presence in the Khan Neshin District. There they found two dogs, malnourished and mishandled. The Marines decided to adopt the two dogs; naming them Sandy and Scraggles. Sandy was pregnant and when she gave birth to a litter of puppies, the Marines took a liking to one they named Willy Pete. He began to display the same protective qualities as his mother, as well as learning how to go out on patrol.

He defends Marines and sailors with love and tenacity, protecting them as any Marine would protect a brother-in-arms. He is the epitome of man’s best friend, shielding service members from the enemy while providing companionship and camaraderie. His name is Willy Pete, and he’s a warrior, a protector, a friend. He’s also a dog. …

The veteran dog usually takes the lead when the Marines go on patrol now. He stays in front until the Marines pass through the bazaar outside the combat outpost. Local residents often look up in recognition of the dog, who seems to fancy himself a Marine. Willy relocates to a new position once he establishes a clear path for the Marines and begins moving from one side of the patrol to the other, warning Marines of anyone’s approach with a quick bark or a low growl.

The Marine Corps is planning on quickly expanding the War Dog program because of its many successes. In February, Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos said: “I’d like a dog with every patrol”. Bringing more dogs to the battlefield has its limitations, though. Enter a Canadian company by the name of K9 Storm.

K9 Storm has developed canine armor that protects them from knives and bullets, has wireless communication equipment and a night vision camera. They even make an aerial insertion vest designed to support dogs during paratrooping operations. It costs the military $50,000 to train each dog, so it makes sense to keep them protected. We know that the SEAL Team Six raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound included at least one of these war dogs, and this new equipment was likely used.

Despite all the dogs that have faithfully served our military and protected our soldiers on the battlefield, many of whom have been either killed or wounded in action, last year the Pentagon again refused a request by military dog handlers to honor U.S. war dogs with an official medal. What a shame.

Retiring Military Working Dogs are always looking for good homes. Anyone interested in adopting, should check out this website.

Rebecca Frankel of has done an excellent job catologuing both military dog history and profiling dogs currently serving in our military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her blog is available here and her fantastic photo essay is available here. Photos courtesy of K9 Storm.

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After yesterday’s terrible news coming out of Afghanistan, I sought to find a more positive story surrounding our continued military presence in the Middle East. There will, of course, be renewed calls to bring our soldiers home after this most recent attack. I’d prefer to avoid the political finger-pointing that seems to inevitably follow events like this and instead offer my heartfelt condolences to the families of the soldiers who died yesterday. Their dedication, loyalty and resolve serve as an inspiration to Americans of all stripes and I, for one, will be forever indebted to them for their service to our country. Rest in peace.

Comments (83)

    I know at least two minor league baseball teams use dogs to retrieve the bats left behind by batters at home plate or bring balls to the umps. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats have Ollie and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans have Deuce. Not sure, though, whether they get to wear uniforms.

    These links are hysterical, and a real light hearted antidote to the very beautifully crafted “Dogs In Uniform” post.

    Thank you, John, for a welcome tribute to our military, who provide that Blanket of Freedom we all rest under so comfortably. Your illuminating post was wonderful.

    You will never see an article about “Cats in Uniform” unless it is cosplay related.

    Thank God Paul is coming back….Uni-watch has been lackluster in his absence, especially with the VERY SHORT tickers…

    It’s not the length of the ticker, it’s the quality of the ticker. And I, for one, have been most satisfied by them.

    You just read about dogs serving and dying in the military. You read about several men dying when their helicopter was shot down yesterday… and this was the first comment that popped in your head?

    here’s the first thought that popped into my head when i read that asinine comment…how about we ban your ass?

    Dildo (dil’ – do) n. See Andrew M.

    Phil – Your first drink in Atlanta is on me if you make good on that threat.

    Here’s an opinion for you, Andy: You’re an idiot. And all your favorite teams suck.

    You’re entitled to your opinion, Andrew M — and you also need to remember that WE are entitled to our opinions as well. Mine happens to be that, based on your opinions, you’re a tool.

    Honestly, I don’t see why you people are jumping down Andrew M’s throat. His opinion is the articles haven’t been as good since Paul left, and the tickers have been week, I can’t disagree with his ticker point too much. There have been some very short tickers, or even none like today. I understand it’s quality not quantity, but take the Twins breaking out the M caps, or the Saints v Goldeyes NHL jerseys. I feel these items would have normally been in the ticker the past two days.

    Back to the “defense” of Andrew M. No where did he mention that it was todays article that was weak (and I agree it was a very good article). He was making a comment, the last day before Paul comes back, that he felt Uni Watch wasn’t as good without him. I don’t know if I should blame the overreaction to his comment on blindly defending the military cause they can do no wrong even if the comment wasn’t critical of the military, or if uni watch can’t handle criticism of itself.

    Just my first reaction to all your first reactions.

    “Blind loyalty to the military ’cause they can do no wrong”?

    Hey genius, did it ever occur to you that people might be sensitive on a day like today because of this: link

    Andrew can criticize me all he wants. Thankfully, my sense of self-worth isn’t too closely tied with Andrew’s opinion.

    Finally, on your complaint that the tickers have been “week”: I guess they have, if by “week” you mean “during the week”.

    You do realize sadly military personal die every day in combat (mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan). I realize the tragedy yesterday was exceptionally bad. But, honestly, if this article were published 3 days ago and Andrew M made that exact same comment you’re saying Phil wouldn’t have threatened banaton? Other people wouldn’t have jumped down his throat? All because they all assumed the comment was related to the dog in military article.

    I’ve been following this site for years, and honestly I’ve never made the connection that there is no ticker during the weekends. Doh! I guess the basic point is still there. Had I not felt the tickers have been a bit weaker since Paul left I probably would have kept glossing over the fact their is never a ticker on weekends.

    Oh, and the “hey genius” and going spelling nazi on me over a simple typo. I expect that from joe blow faceless poster, but from a moderator? Stay classy dude.

    Here’s the thing, Andrew was given the opportunity to clarify or walk back his comment. He didn’t. He doubled down.

    You didn’t realize the site doesn’t run a ticker on the weekends and then blame me for that? So, your incorrect assertions were the result of my deficiencies with handling the ticker? Really?

    Furthermore, the way you casually brushed off the concerns of those who were offended by injecting your cynically biased world view into the discussion was unfortunate. Your defense boiled down to:

    A. People just blindly support the military.
    B. This stuff happens every day.

    So, your expectations on how a moderator should handle these sort of arguments falls on deaf ears with me when those are your positions.

    As far as I can recall over these past weeks, I’ve only heard positive remarks about how the ticker was handled (I recognize not everyone felt that way). Some said they liked the streamlined aspect of it that avoided some of the peripheral items that have limited appeal. You and Andrew have decided to voice your criticisms with words like “lackluster” and “weak”. Had someone simply asked, “Hey John, why are the tickers shorter now?”, I would have happily replied. I would have explained that this time of year tends to be light on sports news since the only major sport currently playing is baseball. There are the occasional press releases from hockey or football, but not often. This is essentially why the Espys are held in July (not that I care about it) and precisely why Paul decides to take his time off now. It was also compounded by the fact that many people knew Paul was off, so we had less tips come in. Honest to God, there was a day when only two items came into my inbox.

    So, why the hostile nature of these criticisms? If I were to make blanket generalizations about the root causes of this type of behavior like you seem to do, I might be compelled to blame it on “public education’s preoccupation with critical theory as the foundation for contemporary learning”. But, I won’t. Because I don’t see everything through the prism of partisanship.

    If you had such an issue with the way the site was handled while Paul was away, the simple solution would be to just avoid the site until tomorrow and send Paul an email.

    Thanks PilotsHatGuy…A little further down ‘DJ’ mentioned that my comment probably would have been received better if I had posted it tomorrow as it was certainly not a reflection of today’s article.

    However, I have to say that I was very surprised by the over reaction of Phil…


    an over-reaction would have been to actually ban you, instead of allowing you to continue to dig yourself into a hole…but please, do continue…your opinion is very important

    john has acquitted himself most admirably these past four weeks, and while, like you say, everyone is entitled to an opinion, your initial childish response was regrettable

    as others have said, you could have simply restated your opinion or you could have broken out the whine with cheese

    you don’t have to praise anything john (or i) did these past four weeks, and trust me, NO ONE is happier than I that paul is returning tomorrow

    comments like yours, however, make me want less and less to fill in, during extremely trying circumstances and to the best of my ability

    enjoy your stay

    I neither jumped down a throat, nor do I blindly support the military.
    I was surprised that someone would make a negative comment about the generous work of others (Phil and John) after reading the content of today’s entry. That’s all.
    Who wakes up in the morning and decides to hurt other people? In the teaching profession we call them bullies.
    Everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, in the teaching profession, “entitled” has a negative connotation.

    None of my comments were directly aimed at just you StLMarty. Andrew M’s timing was bad, and he has admitted to as much. I however read his comment as someone who decided, maybe a few days ago, “Sunday, I’m posting my displeasure about the past few weeks” instead of based on what was specifically posted today.

    Also a negative opinion or someone or something does not equal being a bully, regardless if it’s when they first wake up or right before they go to bed. If anything calling someone an idiot or a tool is bulling more than anything in Andrew M’s initial comment.

    I did not brush off others views for my own cynically biased world view. My whole point in even bothering to comment was I was taken by the swift and harsh comments that were initially made to Andrew M’s post. I’ll simply ask the question, if he had made this comment in reply to yesterday’s post about the Los Mets, would the reaction have been the same? No? Then I take that to mean you are only appalled because he’s commenting about a military related story (which his criticism may have nothing to do with the military angle and just be about the writing). Yes? Then I take that as people who can’t handle criticism. Those were my two points. My defense went beyond just the two points John noted, but if that’s all you took from my posts, well, it’s not worth it to continue to defend myself.

    Again, I truly enjoy this site, and would love to participate more. But I have not got a good vibe from any of the moderators of this site. This was my first real brush with John and Phil and both jumped straight into insults in their replies instead of taking the high road and politely noting that they didn’t appreciate the comments and to please stop. I’ve sadly had issues with Paul as well during the Jets contest when I submitted a design, it never appeared in the submitted entry flickr account, I sent a second email asking what happened, mainly so if I ever submitted another contest entry or a uni tweak I could ensure he got it. Neither email was graced with any kind of reply and no, I was not a jack ass to him at all.

    I’m done commenting on this stuff, and after all this don’t really have any desire to continue contributing to any conversations here. They all seem to be dismissed or attacked. And now comes the obligatory: “Good, we don’t need you here” comment.

    It was not the right day to be dismissive of a genuine military tragedy (the worst day in the history of our decade-long Afghanistan operations). Andrew had the opportunity to clarify his comment if he didn’t mean it as a military slam, but he didn’t. In fact, he reaffirmed it. You brushed it off by saying that these things happen every day and people just blindly support the military. You two were both caught saying something that many found offensive and are now trying to play the victim.

    We didn’t ban anyone. So, spare us this melodramatic nonsense. If you want to take your ball and go home, so be it.

    “John and Phil and both jumped straight into insults…”


    i can’t speak for john, but if you truly read this blog (or at least the comments) then you can’t honestly believe that’s my M.O. at all

    i get criticized plenty, and usually i don’t even deign to respond — but to say that “i jumped straight into insults” is, quite frankly, insulting

    i said nothing about andrew’s first comment, and only when he flat out told marty that “yup” in response to

    You just read about dogs serving and dying in the military. You read about several men dying when their helicopter was shot down yesterday… and this was the first comment that popped in your head?

    did i even say anything

    was i a tad “sarcastic” in my response? you betcha…you ever read my comments before? every so often i get that way

    but instead of apologizing (or, if he didn’t feel the need to), at least backpedaling, qualifying or explaining, andrew kept up the childish commentary

    if you have a problem with paul for your jets submissions, that’s between you and him — no need to air that laundry here…but did you ask for a reply? do you KNOW how many of these things get submitted? i recently did a “seahawks” contest — and there were more than a few that found their way into my spam filter — if i didn’t check that religiously, a few would have been lost — is it not possible this has happened here? you act like paul wantonly and willfully disregarded your submissions…when i am sure that is not the case

    i won’t give you the “don’t let the door hit you in the ass” comment you so desperately are seeking here, but there are ways to communicate with those who provide content for you, day in and day out, for free…and then there are ways to be an ass

    when you figure out which works better for you, we’ll still be here

    Great piece today John! Sometimes we need to be reminded that sports aren’t as important as we like to think.

    Thanks for your efforts the past few weeks.

    Love that K9 patch on the soldiers uni! I adopted a German Shepherd 5 years ago and the first day I brought him home we just sorta stared at each other. Now five years later we’re best friends. There is a pet cemetery in Michigan that has a monument to the war dogs (not my photo) link

    Thanks for the story today John. A little divergent from the usual uni-fare but then again, so are Paul’s cooking articles.

    no mention of SGT Stubby?


    The novel Matterhorn, about Marines in Vietnam, has a great story arc about a military dog and his handler. The handler continually re-ups because they will put the dog down when he goes home.

    The St. Paul Saints & the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the American Association had a ‘turn back the NHL clock’ promotion last night as the Saints wore a retro Minnesota North Star jersey and the Goldeyes wore a retro Winnipeg Jets jersey. Can’t find a decent photo yet, but here’s a link to the Saints’ website that has one.

    Came here to say that. I haven’t found any actual pics yet, but here’s a graphic the Saints made to promo the event.


    Bwaaaahhaaaa….actually funny!
    Listen, it’s just my opinion….no need to get all hot and bothered.

    All levity (or enmity) aside, Andrew, timing is everything. Had you posted your sentiments when Paul returned, most would have seen it as an appreciation of his efforts. By posting it today, you implicitly criticize today’s post, and open yourself up to attack for a seeming lack of regard for troops in harm’s way, and the recently fallen.

    My comment was not “supporting” the troops. There is only one way to “support” the troops, and that is enlisting.
    I don’t understand the readiness to criticize people who have worked hard to keep Uni Watch afloat during Paul’s absence.

    “Police brutality isn’t a dream.” – SUB HUM ANS


    The alternative would have been the site shutting down for month. Wouldn’t that have been fun.

    “But I want it MY way. And I want it NOW.”

    Exactly. That year the site was down for all of August just flat out sucked balls.

    I am so thankful others who Paul trusts have at least kept the flame burning for the past few weeks.

    Please don’t take this as me jumping at you, but I’ve made this comment on here before. Probably wasn’t noticed, because it was just one comment, I’m just a random person (not a regular commenter), and I work most days and can’t comment til late at night. My comment is… so the only way to “support” the troops is to enlist? What about people, like me, who cannot enlist because of health-related issues. You’re saying there is NO WAY I can support the troops who fight for my country, my people, ME? SCREW THAT! I can support them in any way I can possibly find, as BEST AS I PERSONALLY CAN. I can pay them the utmost respect, thank them for every bit of EVERYTHING they give, pat them on the back, welcome them home, if the opportunity arises even little things like buying a meal or a beer. You’re saying that’s not good enough? The military doesn’t ALLOW me because I have health issues that occurred naturally, meaning how I lived before them had NOTHING to do with anything I had control over. Not my diet, not my lifestyle, nothing. Is that my fu**ing choice?? Take your disrespect and shove it up your judgmental ass. okay fine, I lied at first, because I wasn’t going to be disrespectful or get angry. Not everyone can be in the military. We’re no less citizens or able to support the people who do pay that highest of prices for the benefit of all of us.

    I’ll probably get banned now, for lashing out at someone. I sincerely apologize for my tone, for bringing anger into this, but I am not sorry for my sentiment. You want people to consider what they’re saying a little better? Try it yourself. Don’t lump everyone in with one group if they can’t fit within YOUR expectations. 3-2-1-1-2-3… and I LOVE St. Louis. Really, if I moved, that’d be the destination.

    I enjoy the site. I’ve had times where I’ve been annoyed, but it happens to everyone, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t it? We are all humans (as far as I know…). I do enjoy Paul’s tickers, but I see the work that’s being done in the break. A small ticker is at least a ticker, in my opinion. Streamlined was Ek’s intention? Necessity bc of submissions? Whatever. It obviously was how things needed run for a while. Phil of all people deserve an extra leeway in terms of thought for anything any of you have a problem with. I mean anything. Get off the guy’s back. Even if you hate when he writes on here, let it be. Maybe his fuse is shorter than normal. Maybe he is fragile at the moment. Maybe he isn’t. That’s not for us to know or decide, it’s none of our damn business. We can, however, pay the guy a little extra respect, as most of us are someone’s son/daughter. Except the judgmental bastards. You just appeared out of the muck. jk.

    Now… I’m ending my rant, gonna think happy thoughts, and put a new positivity into work. Let’s all start getting along and not being asses to each other. Agreed?

    watched some of the HoF highlights from last night, and was suprised (not pleasantly) to see Deion Sanders wore an Under Armour pin on his jacket. At first I thought it was on everyone’s, but thankfully that wasn’t the case.

    he sure did. missed it the first time around. anybody know if this has happened before? in previous years or other sports?

    This is one of the best articles I have read on this website. I always come for the uniwatching, but this article was just awesome and came at a great time considering yesterday’s events. Sometimes it is good to break the usual cycle and bring in a good story. Well played, Mr. Ekdahl, well played.


    Looking forward to Paul’s critique of the new Elite Football League in India this week. This is a big deal in India and a great project to have been a part of. TOUCHDOWN INDIA!

    Wow, a story on this blog actually honoring the US military instead of belittling it? Paul’s definitely on vacation.

    As an active duty Airman, I’d just like to thank you for the support and for writing this amazing article.

    Again, thank you.

    Come to think of it, how many jerseys other than this one (and its cheddar counterpart) HAVE included “The”?…

    I can tell just glancing at the photo of Stargell that the throwback’s waistband and side stripes are too narrow.

    They’re Majestic all right. “Authentically inauthentic” they should call that.

    This might be an appropriate time to try to tether two key themes–all things Uni as well as a “shout-out” to all the outstanding men/women in our armed services. I (re-)present what I believe is simply the greatest hockey sweater in use today: link

    Fantastic post today, John — & great photos, too. (I realize you didn’t take the photos, but your selections were spot-on.)

    During my time as a civilian public affairs specialist with the Army, I had the opportunity to write about this topic a time or two, & also to speak with both current & former handlers about their experiences. Two of the issues that I think you captured very well in this post are the strong bond that exists between handler & dog, & the anger that many Vietnam-era handlers still feel over the military’s shameful treatment of working dogs when the U.S. pulled out of that nation.

    For UW readers who would like to learn more about this topic, the link website has a wealth of info & historical archives — and for folks who are interesting in adopting a retired working dog, the link is an excellent resource.

    On a related topic, huge thanks again to John & Phil for their incredible work here over the past month. It’s no secret that you two play a tremendous role in maintaining this site’s excellence year-round — & the way you’ve stepped up to keep the site running (and running extremely well, I might add) during Paul’s summer holiday is greatly appreciated.

    I don’t know if anyone else knows this, but dogs are always ranked higher than their handlers to avoid abuse. It would be assaulting a superior.

    Oh, good. Yankees-Red Sox.
    I’ve missed it so.

    I know, I know. I understand the pure numbers and population concentration on the Eastern Seaboard. But what ever games will they choose if one of them is 15 games back some year? Probably give them to us, anyway, because it’s just such a damned fine rivalry. And all those TVs clustered in the Northeast just can’t be ignored.

    Also, did you notice that Jets-Patriots is about the only NFL rivalry that matters anymore? Well, okay, the dogfight for NFL mediocrity in the NFC West doesn’t deserve much attention, I guess.

    I get that Paul is going to pay attention to the Mets. It’s his town and his blog. But, a national network—even if they happen to be based is Bristol—to my way of thinking should be smart enough (or honest enough) to know when they aren’t seeing past the end of their collective noses.


    most of us who actually LIVE in ny or bos get the yanks, mets & sawks all the time anyway, so it’s not exactly a treat to have them get the national game

    i can understand the anti-espn sentiment, and i agree

    throw me a royals/twins bone some time…or a pirates/rockies

    just ya know, for the hell of it

    I feel like they’ve toned down the Yanks/Sox stuff in recent years, especially because the Rays have been so good and and are in the same division. I’m a Yanks fan, and I prefer the 1pm games, honestly.

    Nah, they’re still jamming it down our throats…at least in Ohio.

    This is why I hate the unbalanced schedule…and why I’m beginning to hate interleague. Sure, I like interleague in theory, but it was created just so they could distract us from the bi-weekly Yanks/Sox games by giving us the Yanks vs. the Mets. Enough already.

    Don’t get me wrong – the east coast has its merits. Big East basketball, for example, is a joy to watch. However, until MLB goes back to a balanced schedule, I’m not watching another Yanks/Sawks game.

    Even on ESPN3, it’s the only live thing on right now. I’d rather click on replay and watch yesterday’s Major League Lacrosse games.

    As Johnny Carson (or one of his impersonators) was fond of saying, “I did not know that.”

    Franklin Morales has two problems tonight at Fenway:

    1) The ‘6’ on his back is an upside-down ‘9’; and
    2) He can’t find the plate with a GPS.

    Awesome job for the past month guys! Not once did it even cross my mind that Paul was gone. However, as a reader of over 2 years now, today was the first article I chose not to read.

    Heh. “Willy Pete” is military slang for white phosphorus… interesting they name their pooch for an incendiary weapon.

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