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Saturday, June 09, 2007

K9 Team Brings Special Skills to the Fight

5-Jun-07
By Spc. Amanda Morrissey
5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
.

SHUKRAN, Iraq - For just about every cordon and search operation in Iraq, there is a special two-Soldier team that provides an extra sense to the efforts to find anti-Iraqi forces and hidden weapons. One of those teams at Forward Operating Base Q-West is Staff Sgt. Chuck Shuck and his dog, Sgt. 1st Class Gabe, both with 178th Military Police Detachment, 720th Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade.

On this particular morning, Shuck and Gabe are helping Battery A, 5th Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment Soldiers search the nearby village of Shukran for any weapons that may be hidden in the area.

“The dog has a nose like no human has, that’s just a given,” Shuck said. “A dog is able to smell stuff that humans can’t smell because they can pick up on residue and stuff like that. Even if Soldiers miss something, 95 percent of the time the dog is going to pick up on it.”

In the eight and a half months Shuck and Gabe have been in Iraq, they have worked primarily with 5/82 FA Soldiers. They have conducted approximately 140 searches both on and off the base and have been on more than 90 combat missions off the FOB. To date, one of their biggest finds was 36 122 mm rounds back in Oct. 2006.

Gabe and Shuck have also seen their fair share of action in theater.

“Last month, we were on a raid with Alpha Battery, 5/82 FA, and a guy started shooting through the door. Gabe and I were right there in the thick of things with them, and it was pretty amazing,” Shuck said. “Gabe actually got put in for a Combat Action Badge.”

Such skills take a lot of training, both for the dog and its handler. They go through a five-month training course at Lackland Air Force Base, where the dogs receive obedience and detection training. Soldiers learn how to work with the dogs and how to care for the health of their canine partners. At the end of the course, the dog and the handler certify as a team and graduate together.
“These dogs are trained to clear open areas, buildings, routes and vehicles, and they’re able to work off leash,” Shuck said. “We also train with the dogs in school to react to gunfire, so that pretty much doesn’t faze them.”

Gabe is unique because he is a specialized search dog, meaning he will respond to the commands of his handler without the guidance of a leash. He is one of approximately 300 dogs with such training in all branches of the military.

Graduation from the schoolhouse doesn’t mark the end of training for these teams. Each month, they conduct 16 hours of mandatory detection training to keep the dogs proficient in their skills, as well as daily exercises, said Shuck.

However, Gabe is more than just an extra-sensitive nose to the Soldiers he works with.

“I can see from working with the units here just having the presence of the dog there is a morale booster for Soldiers,” Shuck said. “Gabe is like the mascot of the battalion, and everybody knows him.”

Gabe is also a morale booster for his partner. While in Iraq, Shuck and Gabe are roommates and constant companions, going just about everywhere together.

“The dogs really do become you’re best friend, your partner,” Shuck said. “Gabe is loyal, and he’s trustworthy. You always have a companion in the dog. If I’m having a bad day, he turns it into a good day. There’s nothing that beats having a dog as a partner.”

Photo - Staff Sgt. Chuck Shuck (right) and his partner, Sgt. 1st Class Gabe, both with 178th Military Police Detachment, 20th Military Police Battalion, search a home during a cordon and search operation in the village of Shukran, near Forward Operating Base Q-West.

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