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  Animal Soldiers

This Memorial Day, as we honor the brave men and women of the armed forces who serve to keep us safe, let’s remember the military animals that help keep our soldiers safe.

Through the Navy Marine Mammal Program which began in 1960, bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions serve in the U.S. Navy. They patrol sea and coastal waters. Through a special skill called echolocation, dolphins are trained to search for sea mines. They are also trained to search for enemy swimmers. In addition to searching for mines, sea lions use their superb vision and diving abilities to find objects underwater such as Navy equipment that has been dropped into the ocean by plane.

 Horses, donkeys and mules serve with the Marines.  Soldiers are trained on how to use the animals in the mountains through the Mountain Warfare Training Center, which opened in 1951 to teach American troops how to fight in mountains. These pack animals help Marines stay safe by carrying heavy loads for them so that they can move around more quickly. They are also able to bring supplies to troops in mountainous regions like Afghanistan where in some parts of the country there are no roads for vehicles.

Dogs have been used in warfare throughout history. However, the United States didn’t officially begin to use Military War Dogs or MWDs until World War II. Because of their size and strength, German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois dog breeds are trained most often to be war dogs. Before serving in the military, MWDs go through an 11 week training program at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. They are trained to sniff out bombs, parachute out of planes and recognize enemies. Currently there are about 2700 MWDs which serve in all branches of the armed forces.  


Did You Know?

  • During the war in Iraq, dolphins helped find more than 100 sea mines around the Iraqi port.
  • A sea lion can swim at a speed of up to 25 miles per hour.
  • The Navy’s dolphins and sea lions can be deployed anywhere in the world by ship, helicopter or airplane within 72 hours.
  • Reckless, a female racehorse, was made a sergeant in the Marines and received the Purple Heart.
  • Rin Tin Tin was an abandoned puppy of German war dogs.

Check These Out!

Dogs on Duty
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw
Documents the contributions of specially trained military dogs, profiling noteworthy canine heroes while covering such topics as how they are trained and what happens to them when they retire.
Sea Lions in the Navy
Goldish, Meish
Explores how sea lions help the Navy, discusses why they are used to retrieve military equipment from the ocean, and describes their training.
Horses, Donkeys, and Mules in the Marines
Goldish, Meish
Explores how horses, donkeys, and mules are used in the military; introduces Reckless, a horse used by the Marines during the Korean War; and discusses the training for both the soldiers and the animals.
Dennis, Brian
The story of a wild dog who befriended Marine Major Brian Dennis in Iraq, and, when they were separated, trekked seventy miles through the desert winter to rejoin his friend.
War Dogs
Goldish, Meish

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