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'Man’s best friend' and the fight against IEDs

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Deployments to Afghanistan force many soldiers out of their comfort zones. For many, it is the addition of stress caused by being in a combat zone. For others, it has to do with learning a completely different set of skills than the Army has prepared them for.

This is true for Staff Sgt. Shawn Martinez, who has previously trained as a howitzer section chief. On his current deployment, Martinez serves as a tactical explosive detection dog handler for Forward Support Company G, 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.

Martinez last served on the gun line for Battery A, 2-32 Field Artillery until he was sent to the dog handler’s course to be trained as a TEDD handler. After completing 14 total weeks of training, he was put to work immediately in Afghanistan. He would not be going alone though, as he would be deploying with his new partner, Bono. Bono is a 4-year-old male German shepherd trained to detect explosive substances in a combat environment.

“The training was much different than what I was used to. The biggest thing I took out of it was the need for constant professionalism. Bono was not given to me to be a pet that I could play with,” said Martinez. “He is a living creature, but also an important tool that the Army uses to find explosives.”

On a daily basis, Martinez and Bono perform a variety of tasks to protect the average war fighter. Bono is specifically trained to detect explosives and lead dismounted elements through various kinds of terrain safely, but each day is a new challenge for him.

When they are not needed for a patrol or other type of mission, these two partners spend several days checking vehicles coming through Forward Operating Base Sharana’s entry control point for traces of explosives. If any vehicle carrying explosives were to get past these two, it could spell disaster for everyone on FOB Sharana.

“Every day we are on our toes. I know that Bono is important to the mission here. He helps make sure that soldiers don’t walk into an IED, and because of that, he helps soldiers return home to their families,” Martinez said.

So far this deployment, Martinez and Bono have conducted numerous missions outside the wire. The pair has searched fields, creeks, houses, villages and the like alongside units including the Polish Army, U.S. special forces and the 82nd Airborne Division.

Being a dog handler is not all fun and games during the off time. Being responsible for a military working dog is a 24-hour job and has its own unique set of challenges.

“Having a dog as a partner requires you to think differently. Every day you have to make sure that you are ready for each mission and that the dog is ready. The two of us are the most effective when we are the same page,” said Martinez.

The grooming and health standards for a military working dog are also much higher than that of your average canine. Bono undergoes unique health checks every morning and is groomed from head to toe every evening. Regular training is a must for Bono in order to maintain the dog’s keen odor sense and to avoid complacency.

Despite being tasked with this extraordinary job, the two enjoy every minute of it. They play an important part in the safety, security and well-being of those in their care.

“Bono is a priceless asset to the fight against IEDs [and he] gives U.S soldiers an unmatched capability in detecting explosives out on the front lines and keeping soldiers safe,” said Martinez.

Man has yet to create a mobile device as effective as the Army’s canine partners in Afghanistan, and Martinez and Bono are a true testament that wars are won by the men, women and dogs on the ground.

Article by 1st Lt. Jay Mohr, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division