America’s Military Working Dogs trace some of their roots to Camp Hale | VailDaily.com

America’s Military Working Dogs trace some of their roots to Camp Hale

Like so much else, American military working dogs came together in Camp Hale 75 years ago.

Leigh Steere is a volunteer with the Military Working Dog Team Support Association, an all-volunteer organization founded in 2006 to "support both ends of the leash."

"One of our main endeavors is to provide quarterly care packages for military working dog teams deployed in conflict zones overseas," Steere said.

This year's theme is "Dogs with Altitude: 75 years of faithful service" because it's the 75th anniversary of America's formal military working dog program and the 75th anniversary of Camp Hale and Colorado's role in America's military working dog training efforts, Steere said.

Historical heroes

Dogs have done military work for millennia. The nature of the work done by military working dogs and their handlers hasn't changed much — it's still the dirty work.

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The Romans put razor-sharp collars around their dogs and then sent them into the enemy's ranks to bite and slash enemy soldiers.

The U.S. military has used working dogs since the Revolutionary War, initially as pack animals and later for more advanced uses, such as killing rats in the trenches during World War I.

During World War II, the U.S. military deployed more than 10,000 specially trained canines, most as sentries, but others as scouts, messengers and mine detectors. The Army says the dogs can reach a 98 percent success rate in bomb detection.

In 1942, the folks at Camp Hale asked the Army's Remount Division for 100 dogs to use as messengers, sledge and scout dogs — the dirty work again.

The dogs arrived in 1943, and the Camp Hale dogs and their handlers were among the first to train in field conditions, according to colorado encyclopedia.org.

Force multiplier

Military working dogs are what the military likes to call "a force multiplier."

If you're lucky, then you can adopt one when they retire.

Take Haris, for example. Haris, a military working dog, was the fourth retired military dog adopted by Dr. Randel and Shelli Patty, of Edwards. The Pattys started adopting veteran dogs when President Bill Clinton signed a law authorizing service dog adoption.

And that rolls us back around to this year's "Dogs with Altitude" packing party in Louisville, the first one in Colorado.

Occasionally, the Military Working Dog Team Support Association receives special requests from military working dog teams.

Five teams are living in tents with no access to running water. The handlers asked for something to help clean their dogs.

It turns out there is such a thing, a dry shampoo (no water needed) and grooming wipes — all unscented. And every care package for all the handlers included a Kong ZoomGroom (dog brush), as well as a canine toothbrush and toothpaste.

"We want to provide practical support … to let these teams know we care deeply about what they are doing," Steere said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.