Critical Mission: Praying for America's War Dogs

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CARRSVILLE, Va. - It is well known that America has the best trained military in the world. But one surprising fact is that around 3,000 dogs serve alongside our men and women in uniform.

When SEAL Team Six took out Osama Bin Laden, they had the help of Cairo -- not the Egyptian government -- but a specially trained Belgian Malinois.

The Belgian Malinois is one of several breeds trained for war at facilities like American K-9 Interdiction (AK-9I) in southeastern Virginia. Other breeds include German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, and Labrador Retrievers.

Like their human counterparts, the dogs go through rigorous training to protect the country and our troops.

"We've got to get it right 24 hours a day, seven days a week because the bad guys only have to get lucky once," Paul Roushia, president of AK-9I, told CBN News.

"So it's imperative the dogs are properly conditioned and trained," he said.

Top of Their Game

Roushia makes sure the dogs are at the top of their game.

Handlers train the dogs in detecting explosives and narcotics on and off leash, tracking, trailing, and patrolling.

The dogs are also trained in bite work and criminal apprehension, applying around 600 to 800 pounds of pressure with their powerful jaws.

"It's got to be a very, very sound dog all the way around because the task it's performing is critical to saving lives and infrastructure, safeguarding American assets," Roushia explained.

The president of AK-9I said mediocrity is not an option. He turns to God for help, taking time to pray over the dogs.

"I'm asking for the Lord's guidance that the dogs get it, that they perform," Roushia shared on the day CBN News visited the training grounds.

'Trust Your Dog'

One of the key areas of performance for dogs trained at AK-9I is explosive detection. Handlers allowed CBN News to watch an off-leash training session, which resembled what happens in Afghanistan.

KoKo, a chocolate lab, had to sniff out a simulated IED or explosive alongside a road. The handler looked for a change of behavior in the dog.

Once KoKo smelled the odor of the explosive, she laid down near its location.  

"I've deployed a couple different groups of Marines, and... they said, 'Do you have any advice for us?' I said, 'Yes, trust your dog,'" John De Terlizzi, marketing director at AK-9I, told CBN News.

What makes dogs like KoKo so special is their highly-developed sense of smell. They're able to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time to make a hit on a dangerous substance.

"To date, no machine on the market can match their olfactory capability or their accuracy," Roushia said.

"The ability to send them out 250 to 500 yards ahead of the troops to act as a buffer and early warning mechanism, there's no machinery out there on the market that can do that," he said.

An Undying Bond

Roushia said the dogs are 98 to 99 percent effective. Tragically, in the unpredictable setting of war, lives are lost, both human and animal.

A roadside bomb hit Lance Cpl. William "Billy" Crouse and his dog, Cane, in Afghanistan.

While being lifted into the medevac, Crouse managed to cry out, "Get Cane in the Blackhawk!" before losing consciousness -- apparently, his last words.

Both Crouse and Cane died.

Trainers at AK-9I said the bond between handlers and their dogs is very strong.

Senior patrol dog trainer Eric Favetta served as a K-9 handler in Afghanistan. Both made it back alive.

"There's no definite that you're going to come back to the FOB at the end of the night, but knowing you have your partner standing there next to you, it kind of gives you a little better feeling that you're going to make it home," Favetta told CBN News.

Adopting War Heroes

Dogs have been serving with U.S. troops for centuries.

It's estimated these four-legged heroes and their handlers saved more than 10,000 lives during the Vietnam War alone.

Sadly, only a small percentage of the dogs who served in Vietnam left that country. None returned to civilian life.

In the year 2000, adopting certain war dogs became legal. More than 300 retired war dogs are now put up for adoption every year.

For example, Pfc. Colton Rusk's parents adopted his dog, Eli, after the death of their son.

"None of the dogs are euthanized," Roushia said. "They all go to good, loving homes."

Handlers and trainers say that's a fitting reward for dogs who truly exemplify what it means to be "man's best friend."

"Each day we contribute to the defense of this great nation and at the same time, give all praise and glory to God," Roushia said.

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Mark Martin

Mark Martin

CBN News Reporter

Mark Martin is a reporter and anchor at CBN News, covering various issues from military matters to alternative fuels. Mark has reported internationally in the Middle East and traveled to Bahrain to cover stories on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkMartinCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/MarkMartinCBN.