AL ASAD, Iraq -- All is quiet inside the abandoned adobe building when suddenly the front door is knocked off its rusty hinges. A breeze from the opening raises the settled dust. An insurgent in waiting struggles to maintain watch on the door frame. Still, he sits and waits for that human-shaped silhouette to enter through the door. Instead, a smaller shadow charges in and in a split second he feels the sharp teeth and powerful jaw of a military working dog as it clamps down onto his arm and wrenches his grip from his weapon. The Marines fill the room.
This scenario describes the job of Military Working Dog Baro, an 8-year-old German Shepherd from Camp Lejeune, N.C. He is on his third, and final, deployment with trainer, handler and friend Sgt. Joseph E. Evans, explosive detection dog handler, Military Police Task Force, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment.
"Baro and I have been through a lot together," said Evans, a native of Heavener, Okla. "We have been together for three years and have been to Afghanistan once and this is our second time in Iraq together."
Like every military working dog, Baro went through more than three months of training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, where he was trained in patrol work and how to detect explosives. However, unlike most working dogs, Baro received extensive training prior to the Department of Defense acquiring him.
"Baro didn't start his training at Lackland until he was two years old," said Evans. "Before Lackland, he was trained to be a sentry dog for the Czechoslovakian military."
According to Evans, he and Baro are more than just a handler and dog team.
"I don't see Baro as a dog anymore," said Evans. "He's an extension of me. We have been together so long that I don't even have to give verbal commands anymore. We work with clicks and whistles."
The clicks and whistles are used to maintain sound discipline while on patrol with infantry Marines.
"It would be dangerous to use verbal commands while on patrol," said Evans. "It would also be pointless to have the rest of the Marines out there moving as quietly as possible, just to hear me saying, 'Sit, stay,' or to give any other commands. It would just make the whole situation a lot worse."
While many dog handlers keep their dogs on the leash while on operations, Evans has trained Baro to not need the six-foot nylon lifeline.
"I trained Baro to work off the leash," said Evans. "I built upon his natural independence and willingness to work away from me. I let him follow his natural tendencies to be a dog and allowed him to move away from me, but I was always there for him in case he needed guidance. That helped build a stronger relationship between us. I allowed him to roam in front of me, to act as my scout. The secret to this is building a high amount of discipline in the dog and a strong sense of obedience. All of which was created through a rapport, and by me establishing myself in the dominant role - I lead, he follows."
"Sgt. Evans and Baro have a different kind of work relationship," said Petty Officer 1st Class Mandy M. Holt, military working dog handler, Military Police Task Force. "They trust each other completely; they know the other would never do anything to harm them. It is a very unique kind of trust."
Thanks to the training Evans has given Baro, the dog is now able to search a room on his own and receive further instructions.
"If he finishes searching a room I can yell, 'Right,' and he will go right into a different room and search that one," said Evans. "That is something we practiced a lot on. There is an 82 percent chance of Marines sustaining a casualty when they first enter a building. I want to be able to take the Marines out of that cone of fire."
According to Evans, many enemies of the United States don't even know that the military still uses MWDs, as well as many U.S. service members.
"Baro and I were on an Army National Guard base once when an Army first sergeant came up to me and told me I needed to get rid of the dog," said Evans, recalling the incident. "I tried to explain to him that Baro was my partner, but he kept telling me he had to go. I finally said that I work with the dog and the first sergeant said, 'I don't know what you are trying to pull; I know the military hasn't worked with dogs since Vietnam.' I just laughed and explained to him that the military does still use working dogs."
With Baro's retirement coming up, there aren't many working options for him, but Evans wants to give Baro a comfortable future.
"I want to try and adopt Baro when he retires," said Evans. "After the time he has put in, I believe that Baro deserves an easy life. The least I can do for him after he has served me faithfully for three years is ensure that he has nothing to worry about for the rest of his life."