It started out like any other day on the job for yellow Labrador Retriever Blue, an Improvised Explosive Device detection dog and his handler Lance Cpl. Jarrett Hatley.
They were passing through a tiny farming village in Afghanistan – Daywala – when their Afghan National Army partners stopped to examine a suspicious compound. While examining the surrounding ground, Hatley halted their advancement when he noticed an area of ground that looked recently disturbed.
Blue was sent in to investigate.
Just as he is trained to do, Blue laid down next to the area, confirming the presence of an IED.
Once again, Blue’s excellent training and Hatley’s keen eye saved the lives of at least a dozen men. Although this time it ended well, Hatley works under constant pressure.
“While we’re on patrol, everyone looks to Blue and I to keep them safe,” said Hatley, a 21-year-old native of Millingport, North Carolina. “If we mess up, my friends behind me could get blown up…because of my mistake.”
What’s it like, exactly, to be an IED detection dog and his handler? We had the honor of interviewing Hatley, while still in Afghanistan on tour, to find out.
DC: What is the “job title” of these dogs and their handlers, and what are they trained to do?
Hatley: These Marines are dog handlers. They are infantrymen by trade, but dual-trained as dog handlers, and serving on at least their second combat deployment to Afghanistan. The dogs are Improvised Explosive Device detection dogs that are trained to locate, by smell, both narcotics and explosives used in IEDs.
DC:How did Blue became a Marine dog?
Hatley: Blue is a pure-bred yellow Labrador Retriever. He worked as a hunting dog before being sold to American K9 Interdiction to be trained and employed as an IED detection dog.
DC: What does a typical day on the job look like for Blue?
Hatley: On deployment in Afghanistan, most days are alike. From Patrol Base Masood in Helmand province’s Garmsir district, we performed foot patrols twice a day — one in the morning and one at night. Between these frou to six kilometers security patrols, I would refresh Blue with odor training, practice different training scenarios and perform physical training together (running together around the patrol base to keep Blue in shape). I would feed Blue twice that day; once in the morning before the patrol, and again before they departed for the evening patrol.
DC: Why did you want to have an explosive device detection dog?
Hatley: After serving as a rifleman with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, in Helmand province’s Nawa district for seven months in 2010, I volunteered to take on the challenge of becoming a dog handler. I knew there was the potential of encountering IEDs on my second deployment to Garmsir district, so I said, “I wanted to be the person to find them so my friends wouldn’t get hit.” I have several Marine friends who have been injured by IED detonations, and I am proud to be a dog handler because I know Blue and I are keeping the Marines safe.
“My dog Blue is pretty much like another Marine, I guess,” Hatley says. “He doesn’t know he’s doing it, but he’s protecting all of us. If I have him on a patrol and there’s an IED that could hurt us, I know he’ll find it.”
Dogs like Blue show us just how much a dog can do, if we train them correctly and give them the chance. He is a credit to his species and is a perfect example of why many of us put our trust in their paws.