Three summers ago in Fayetteville, the Special Operations Forces (SOF) K-9 Memorial Foundation unveiled a bronze life-sized likeness of a Belgian Malinois, dressed in full combat gear. The memorial is believed to be the only one of its kind dedicated to special operations K-9s in the world. It’s on the parade field of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum. Fifty-eight stone pavers created from North Carolina granite bear the names, countries of origin and years the dogs died. The Belgian Malinois, like the German shepherd, is a popular working dog in military and police service. It’s a bit smaller, has shorter hair and has greater endurance than shepherds. The Belgian Malinois exhibits energy levels that are among the highest of all dog breeds. “Like their human counter-parts, special operations multi-purpose canines are specially selected, trained and equipped to serve in roles not expected of the traditional military working dog,” said Chuck Yerry, President of the SOF K-9 Memorial Foundation. The Foundation honors the canines each year on Memorial Day. They share the same risks as the troops, suffering injuries and sometimes death on the battlefields. “They’ve given their lives for their country and we are grateful to be able to honor them,” said Paul Galloway, the Airborne and Special Operations Museum Foundation’s executive director. Crystal Blasjo and her son, Talon, attended this year’s Memorial Day ceremony. Blasjo’s husband, Aaron, and his dog, Hunter, were killed in action on May 29, 2011. She and her son placed flags for Aaron and Hunter.
Throughout the course of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, coalition troops relied on military working dogs to help keep them safe. The dogs are trained to detect explosives, to find illegal drugs, to search for missing comrades or target enemy combatants. Not only are they active on the front lines, but they also serve as therapy dogs and service dogs. Not much is known about the Navy SEALs who stormed Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, but a few details are coming out about one of them. He has four legs and a highly trained nose. According to The New York Times, one member of the commando team that killed bin Laden was “what may be the nation’s most courageous dog.” Almost nothing is known about the animal, and even military sources weren’t clear about its breed, telling the Times it was probably either a German Shepherd or a Belgian Malinois. The Guardian reports that “the unidentified canine was lowered into the compound from a helicopter while strapped to a human member of the team.” A dog would have been essential in the raid to protect soldiers from explosive devices. According to the Times, dogs “have proved far better than people or machines at quickly finding bombs,” including improvised explosive devices, which were responsible for two-thirds of all casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.