Remembrance Day is a time to recognize, appreciate and remember those that have served and continue to serve our country in the past and present, and in times of war and peace. Included with these brave men and women are animals that have served alongside them. Delivering messages, providing security, rescuing wounded, carrying supplies, detecting bombs, and providing moral support are just a few of the tasks that they have carried out assisting Canadians since before WWI to our more recent war in Afghanistan. Without the help of these animals, our sacrifice would have been even greater.
I had the chance to connect with John Logie, a K9 handler that served with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Afghanistan. His story recounts his experience and the impact his K9 partner, Balto had on the soldiers, many from Alberta, tasked to provide security and support the combat mission in Afghanistan.
In 2009 the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Forces was deployed to Afghanistan and our company was contracted to provide the infantry with Explosive Detection Dogs. At the time I had been a dog handler for over nine years with experience in the military, as a federal police K9 officer and as a civilian K9 law enforcement officer. Due to the fact that the Canadian Military does not have a working dog program and no active dog teams they contracted this service out to our company.
Having a dog team proved to be essential in finding explosives and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Our primary function was to conduct clearing procedures using our K9 partners to ensure that the roads and pathways being used were cleared of any explosives or IEDs.
As we would go on patrol, I would be in the front of the patrol with a point man and an engineer. We would work together clearing the path so the rest of the patrol could proceed safely. Sometimes we would need to respond to a call of a possible IED and would attempt to locate and mark it for the Counter IED team to come in and dispose of it. We would also be used to clear compounds of suspected IED factories and buildings where suspicious activity had taken place. During my time with the Canadian Military my K9 partner and I found several IEDs, IED components, an undetermined amount of Home Made Explosives (HME) as well as regular explosives and munitions. We began with one presence patrol a day but by April we were finding ourselves being sent out two or three times a day with one presence patrol and then responding to other calls.
Much like the bond that soldiers make with one another, the bond we handlers build with our dogs seems even closer. They depend on us as we depend on them. They look to us for food, water, love and attention and we look to them to use their senses to find devices that were killing our troops. The bond was so strong that they would lay their lives down to protect ours. For each IED or even component of an IED found it is hard to determine the number of lives saved. As we worked with the troops they also became close to our four legged friends and they too would begin to build a bond with our K9 partners. In many ways these dogs became heroes for not only the handlers but the soldiers as well. These animals have so much more to offer us than we can imagine. With their nose alone being able to locate and find an explosive sometimes buried as much as two feet (60 cm) in the ground.
In May of 2010, we had gone out to locate caches of weapons and explosives which were being buried in the grape fields surrounding the village where we were located. We began our patrol to search two grape fields and the compounds that went with them. As we were searching the second compound my K9 partner indicated he was on to the odor of an explosive and so I followed. As I came closer to the building I stepped on a pressure plate which detonated a secondary IED. I was injured and needed medical evacuation. If it wasn’t for Balto pulling me in the direction he did I very well could have hit the primary device and I would not be here today. If he wasn’t my hero before that day he definitely was now. As I was home recovering from my injuries, I continued to keep tabs as to where my K9 partner was and who he was dragging across the deserts of Afghanistan.
In February of 2012 I returned to Afghanistan but was now leading and training handlers there. On several occasions I would hear that my old partner was in Kandahar Air Field (KAF) where our main office was located and I was able to go in and see him. Due to the draw down I left Afghanistan in December of 2013 and returned to the United States. In March my old partner returned to the U.S. and I was notified that he was up for adoption. I immediately filled out the paper work and Balto is now home with me enjoying the soft green grass and learning what it is like to sleep on a couch. He will always be my hero and I know many other who feel the same way.
Much like our military veterans I feel it is important that we honor these animals for the sacrifice they have made and the lives they have saved. Throughout history we have used animals during times of war and peace and many of them never get that chance to be able to learn what it’s like to walk in the green grass and sleep on the couch because they have given their lives to save ours. They are veterans as well as we are and they are heroes – each and every one of them.
John’s story is one of many stories of animals serving with Canadian soldiers throughout the last century. Because John and his K9 partner Balto performed the dangerous task of finding explosives, they helped to keep our soldiers safe and ultimately saved countless lives. A huge thank you to John and Balto for their service and for sharing their story with us.
In the classroom:
Dogs are just one type of animal that has helped our soldiers and law enforcement over the past century. What are some of the other types of animals that have provided assistance and what were/are their roles? What quality or special skill does this type of animal have that makes them good at their job? Have your students research and create a class poster or display to recognize these animals and their role. Veterans Affairs Canada has a website about the Tales of Animals in War and is a great place to begin researching.