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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

March 31, 2010

Canines in Theater

ATF trained dogs save Marines in Afghanistan

Most people know the old cliché a dog is a man’s best friend, but for members of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan that sentiment proves true everyday.

In October, while on patrol in Afghanistan, members of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade were saved when a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) certified explosive detection canine assigned to the unit discovered 15 homemade, improvised explosive devices.

The patrol was at a safe distance from the IED when the dog, on its own, found the device and sat, explains Jeffrey Groh, ATF Explosives Training Branch Chief. Canines are taught to ‘sit’ when they detect the scent of explosives. This allows their handler to know where the explosive material is hidden.

In recent years military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen a dramatic increase in the use of improvised explosive devices. A large number of these IEDs are constructed from homemade explosives. To combat the threat of homemade explosives and save lives, the Department of Defense teamed up with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to train dogs that can detect such explosives.

In addition to training canines at the Joint Military Working Dog Development Training Center in Yuma, AZ, ATF teaches dogs how to detect homemade explosive odors. Dog handlers learn to recognize his canine’s change in behavior as a result of the animal’s exposure to homemade explosive odors.

Since March, ATF has put a total of 206 canines into action detecting homemade explosives in combat zones. The program has proven to be so successful ATF canine trainers project they will train over 300 canine teams in fiscal year 2010 for deployment with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

The program has shown dogs are more than friends – they can also be life savers.