AL ASAD, Iraq -- The sand-filled air and scorching heat of Iraq creates hard conditions for the service members deployed to the war-torn country, and the environment is no less pleasing for the furry four-legged friends of the Military Working Dogs and handlers who support them.
During a deployment, MWDs with Military Police Task Force, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, play the exact same roles as the service members, as they get used to the climate of their new home away from home and carry out their missions to the best of their abilities.
"We have different dogs that do different things," said Staff Sgt. Gregory S. Massey, regional kennel master of the western area of operations, Military Police Task Force. "Some find bombs, some find people, some find drugs and some do a combination thereof. A lot of the units take them on raids, route clearing and stuff like that.
"They do a lot of different types of missions," the 36-year-old native of Nashville, Tenn., continued. "On base, it is just like garrison back at home. It's clearing for VIPs coming in. We can use them for crowd control or moving people around, too."
Between the Vietnam War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the MWDs' training did not focus as much on operational missions as they do today.
"It was mainly law enforcement," said Massey, a Danahills High School graduate. "They just went out and did cop stuff, drug searches, bomb searches and normal MP patrols. So when this all began, we had to shift our training to focus more on the operating forces."
Although the dogs are now in a combat environment where they perform mission after mission, they still maintain their training on a daily basis.
"Training is continuous so that you can keep the dogs sharp," said Sgt. Alex M. Reeb, MWD handler, Military Police Task Force. "For the dogs, the work is the play, as they don't understand the concept of work. To them, finding an (improvised explosive device) is their play."
According to Massey, the dogs prefer to be in a deployed environment more than their comfortable concrete kennels in the United States.
"They miss their family and don't get paid the combat pay," said Massey. "On a serious note, they actually like it better out here in a lot of ways. The climate is harder to get used to, but they get used to it. It is more of a home environment. Right now, we have dogs inside, sleeping in beds with their handlers in their racks. Back in the States, they are sleeping in a nice kennel, but they are by themselves. So when they come out here, they are with their handler 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
While the dogs are in Iraq, they form an extremely close bond with the main person who looks out for them -- their handler.
"We use the term 'Dog Team,' as we've spent so much time with our dogs that it is pretty much one mind," said Reeb, a 24-year-old native of San Angelo, Texas. "It's not about who is the best handler or the best dog, but who is the best 'Dog Team.'"
While the dogs enjoy being deployed with their handlers to distant lands, they are still subject to combat stress.
"It was funny because we never attributed combat stress to dogs, but it does affect them," said Massey. "We had a dog diagnosed with combat stress. Back home, we can only simulate the environments and situations so much. Some dogs are just like some people and shut down. Not very many, but it does happen."
The dogs are most credited for the abilities they possess that help them complete their mission, as well as their morale building friendliness.
"They can do some amazing things," said Massey. "They can smell so much better than we can. They increase security for the base and individuals on patrol. They also build morale, as the units kind of adopt them. When they do find something, it may just be one bomb to save one Marine, but that is enough. They save lives."