It’s A Dog’s Life In The Army
By Roy Oswick…….
It was hot, in fact it was very hot.
Tripolitania, June and the hottest summer for over a hundred years, or so we were told. So what was I doing walking about in the middle the night with a dog?
Well as they say this where the story begins.
There were times during the early years of my Military Police career, that I did volunteer for some very stupid things. I know one is always told, in the Army, Never Volunteer For Anything. In the main I suppose that could be seen as good advice, however if I had always followed that advice I would have missed out on an awful lot of laughs and some valuable experiences.
I had volunteered to be posted to Tripolitania Provost Unit, RMP in Libya after a 3 year tour in Germany and had been looking forward to the posting as I have always enjoyed serving in the Mediterranean area.
What I had not expected was to find that the unit had two distinct roles,
- The usual Policing Role,
- A Guard Dog unit providing guard dog patrols to several Ordnance supply depots throughout the region.
To facilitate these roles everyone spent 6 months on dog handling duties followed by normal duties for 6 months. It has to be kept in mind that the dogs were not your average intelligent Police dogs, and neither were they supposed to be. No, these animals were almost all German Shepherds or similar, and had been selected for their aggressiveness, and suitability to be trained to be ferocious, and they were all very very fast and could cover 100 yards in about 5 seconds, much, much quicker than even the best Olympic sprinter.
Never having had a desire to be a dog handler, I approached my dog handler training with apprehension. I was not afraid of dogs but, as I entered the Kennel area for my first day of training, my heart rate increased somewhat, as I and the other dozen or so newcomers were confronted by a row of 20 or so metal and concrete dog pens in each of which was housed a guard dog. Not only was this our first day of training to be a dog handler, it was also the day on which we were to be allocated a dog that we would be working with for the next 6 months or so.
I Use The Term “Allocated A Dog” In The Very Loosest Manner. For, as ever, the Army had its own way of doing things, and this procedure was no exception. As we trooped into the kennel area, the Royal Army Veterinary Sergeant in charge of the kennels, and who was responsible for our training described the allocation process.
“Right lads, listen in. What we are going to do now is match you up with the dog that is best suited to you. They are just like us really, they have their own personality, and they have likes and dislikes. What we will do is one at a time you will go into a kennel and the dog that does not try to bite you will be the one allocated to you”
Almost as if on cue as he finished speaking the dogs began to howl and bark in a manner that was less than comforting.
“OK then let’s make a start. First off I want you to walk down the row of kennels and stop briefly at each one. Just have a quiet word with the dog inside, use his name, “But, Do Not Try To Pat Him Or Go In, Got It?” I quickly decided that this was good advice and judging by the look on the faces of the other would be dog handlers it was obvious that they were equally ill at ease.
“Right Then I Want You all To Just Calmly Walk Along The Line And Stop When I Tell You To. Off You Go”
So that is just what we did. After a few minutes the Sergeant called us to a halt and said. “Right Then Turn And Face The Kennel Nearest To You And When I Tell You To I Want You To Open The Kennel Door And Go In”
By now my concern had generated into an almost state of alarm.
Close up these dogs were massive each weighed in at 60/80 lbs and none of it fat, just solid muscle. The first thought to enter my head was, who was going to handle who, for at that stage if a dog had said “SIT” I would have quickly obeyed.
However I turned to face the first kennel and saw that the name on the door was MARTY.
Marty was some kind of Alsatian/Doberman cross breed. Mottled black and grey coat, pointed ears with a body shaped like an exorcist missile and, RED EYES.
Marty quickly decided that the weak kneed individual standing outside his kennel and muttering something about him being a good boy, was less than man enough for the task, and he proceeded to hurl himself at the kennel door yapping, and snarling displaying two rows of very large and very sharp teeth.
The very thought that the Sergeant would say go into the kennel filled me with dread.
Thankfully this did not happen, and we were told to move on. The procedure was repeated several times and gradually the noise of the barking dogs began to subside. After a while the Sergeant said “Right, I Have Been Watching You Lot And The Dogs And Here Is What I Think Should Happen”
He then walked along the line of kennels and as he stopped at each one he then called us forward one at a time and told us to stand outside the kennel of the dog he had selected for us and to just wait. He would tell us when to enter the kennel.
At this point I should mention that one of our new found dog handlers was a real poser, 6′ plus tall, Blond haired and smooth skinned, weights lifter and body builder, a real Adonis and Macho Man. His name is unimportant however he had the ego of a Grand National winner, and never missed an opportunity to display his Mr Universe type body and was ever willing to strike a pose to impress whether this be in full uniform, on the beach, in the pool or at the bar, his whole world centred around himself and his appearance.
It came to the point of the allocation process where he had not been allocated a dog and there were but two left, one of whom was Mad Marty, and one other called Sprint. Sprint was about the biggest dog I have ever seen. When he stood on his hind legs he was well over 6′ tall and massive in bulk. However he did appear to be a touch less aggressive than most of the other dogs and compared to Mad Marty, could even be described as docile!!!!
Our Mr Universe clearly thought that he would be allocated to Mad Marty and strutted confidently forward to do so, only to be told,
“So, That Just Leaves Sprint For You Then” said the Sgt.
“But What About Marty Then,? I Know I Could Handle Him” from Mr Universe
“No, Marty Is My Training Assistant’s Dog So You Will Take Sprint Okay?”
“Yes I Suppose So, But It Is A Bit Unfair”
The Sgt then said
“Now, The Moment Of Truth Has Arrived. When I Give The Word Go Into Your Dogs Kennel Attach A Lead To His Collar And Wait. Enter!!”
With Heart Pounding I Cautiously Opened The Kennel Door Of My Dog And Went In.
To my complete and utter surprise the dog allowed me to enter and to attach a lead to his collar.
I looked along the line of kennels and could see that the majority of us had managed to enter the kennels and were so far unscathed. And then it happened. There was a loud scream of pain and much snarling and growling from the direction of the kennel occupied by Sprint, followed by the sight of Mr Universe racing along the row kennels clutching his left arm and screaming for help, and first aid, in a state of total disarray with his KD shirt in tatters and flapping around him as he ran and with blood dripping from his arm.
We were immediately ordered to remove the leads from our dogs and to vacate the kennel area, this we did with considerable enthusiasm. We assembled outside the Sgt’s office to await instructions. The door was open and we could see that our hero was sitting down with bandages around his arm and looking very sorry for himself.
The Sergeant came out and it was clear that he was less than sympathetic.
“ I Told You Lot To Go Into The Kennel, Attach A Lead To Your Dog, And Wait. It Seems That Some Of Us Do Not Understand Instructions, Especially This Idiot. He Decided To Try To Get ‘Sprint’ To Sit And Lie Down. As I Said Earlier These Dogs Have Their Own Personality And On This Occassion Sprint Decided To Let Our Friend Here Know That Until He Knows What He Is Doing, To Leave Him Alone. Because The Dog Does Not Know This Fool He Did Not Obey So Our Friend Here Shouted At Him. ‘Sprint’ Promptly Saw Him As A Threat And Bit Him. So Lesson One. Only Do What I Tell You To Do, And Until You Get To Know Your Dog, And He Gets To Know You, Do Not Try To Play With Him. These Dogs Are Not Pets And Will Retalliate. Remember They Are Trained And You Are Not. Go And Get Your Lunch And We Will Commence Training Tomorrow At 0600 Hrs.”
So that was it, end of day one of dog handler training, I was now the handler of Army Dog B308 PADDY. Not what I signed up for but, there you go. Just got to get on with it.
The remainder of the Dog Handler training passed almost without further incident and we all gradually became accustomed to our new role. I think it is true that all of us enjoyed the training however the downside of the dog handling role was that it was all night shifts and once we joined the shifts we were working 4 nights on 2 days off and 2 days training. I use the term Shifts very loosely since the army took a vey simplistic view of working hours. An example is as follows;
Requirement; 24 hours cover
Hours in one day 24 hours
Daylight hours Approx 12 per day (variable dependent on location)
Night Hours Approx 12 per night (again dependent on location)
Therefore Day shifts are 12 hours long 0600hrs to 1800hrs
Night shifts are 12 hours long 1800hrs to 0600hrs
Following completion of the dog handlers training course we quickly found ourselves allocated to a shift and it was off to work we go.
As previously stated the role of the dog handlers was to patrol and protect a number of Ordnance Depots in the area. Mostly these were situated some distance away from base and consisted of what were at one time old German and Italian depots taken over and used by the British army after the WW 2 and which were still in use. Our job was to patrol the depots, and detect and apprehend any intruders.
Although these depots were mostly located in the middle of nowhere, they contained enormous amounts of very valuable equipment, and the local population were quite willing to take the risk of being discovered in their attempts to gain entry and take possession of whatever they could acquire, and the dog handlers had considerable success in finding and detaining a large number of them, with of course the aid of the dogs, which were themselves, in the main, a deterrent to most other than the most determined would be thieves. So the job had its moments just like any other and we quickly fell into the routine of shifts.
Dogs, just like humans, can only perform to their best standards for relatively short periods, and therefore we would spend 2 hours on patrol and then rest for 4 hours. This gave the dogs time to rest up and remain fully alert. At each of the locations we had a kennel area and a couple of rooms. One of these rooms was set out as an office with a telephone, desk and typewriter, for the NCO I/C shift to complete the usual military paperwork. Reports/ Shift Rotas, incidents all the usual stuff.
The other room had a couple of bunk beds for us to get a little sleep.
After several shifts I started to notice that on the way back to base, the NCO I/C and the other members of the shift were remarkably less tired than I, and could not figure out why, after all 2 on and 4 off for 12 hours, four 4 nights on the trot walking several miles around the depot was fairly tiring, at least I found it so.
Whereas I at the end of each shift could not wait to get into bed, I learned that they were off to the beach for the day and at the end of the 4 night cycle were partying for the best part of the first day off until well into the night. The question was for me HOW?
On the way to our first duty on the next set of shifts I decided to ask the NCO I/C. So, once we were all loaded onto the vehicle that would take us to our place of duty I said to him
“How Come You Guys Are All As Fresh As Daisies In The Mornings After A Shift And I Am Completely Nackered?”
A deathly silence fell upon us as I waited for a response.
“Wait Till We Get Settled And I Will Tell You”
“Is That Alright With You lot?” This to the rest of the shift.
On arrival at the depot we got sorted and then the I/C called us all into the office area.
“Ok I Think We Are All Satisfied That The New Guys Are To Be Trusted. Agreed?”
This question drew murmurs of assent from the other shift members, whilst I sat totally unaware of what he was to say next.
Let me say at this point that, situated in various places within the depot were a number of posts upon which were attached a chain and a punch key.
Each key bore a number just like a typewriter key and we were required to insert the key into a watchman’s clock that we carried, and press the key which then indented a card within the clock with the number of the key, and the time that it had been pressed. This was a measure that ensured that we had visited each of the areas within the patrol period. Each clock was assigned to a different member of the shift so that times of visits could be attributed to a particular individual.
“Right Mate, You Will Be First Out Tonioght So First Things First, Give Me Your Clock”
I handed him my patrol clock which he placed on the desk in front of him and I was then amazed to see him take a small cotton sack from his pocket, the contents of which he emptied onto his desk.
“”Okay Then What You See Now Is Strictly Between Us, Right?”
“ Yes .- RIGHT” I said fascinated to see what happened next.
“Well You Know All Those Points You Visit To Punch Your Clock?
“Well These Are Exact Copies Of The Keys.
So What Happens Is, On At Least One Of The Periods That You Should Be On Patrol, You Just Stay On Your Bed While I Or One Of The Others Uses These Keys To Punch The Clock. When The Clocks Are Opened They Are All Stamped Up, Just As If You Had Been On Patrol. We All Take A Turn So Instead Of Two Guys Being Out, One Stays Here To Punch The Clocks. Brilliant!!!”
No Problem As Long As This Stays Between Us, So Keep This To Yourself, You Have Been With Us A Month Or So Now So I Guess We Can Trust You?
I was now on the horns of a moral dilemma. The thought of not actually doing my duty made me nervous, but if I opted out of this scam what would life be like from then on.
My Moral Objections Dissipted Fairly Quickly When I Thought Of Going Off Duty At Least Fairly Fresh And Perhaps Taking My Wife And Kids To The Beach Instead Of Sleeping All Day.
“Yes Of Course You Can” I said
“Good Get Your Head Down And I Will Wake You When Your Next Patrol Period Is Due. Sleep Tight”
However I was now committed and apart from a few brief periods of guilt, I became as much involved as the others, and quickly took to enjoying the days off that I would normally have spent asleep.
This situation lasted for several months until one morning when we returned from patrols the duty Sergeant was waiting for us and told us to hand all the patrol clocks to him. This was not unusual as it was his job to open the clocks and check that they had been properly punched. It just so happened that the duty Sergeant had only recently been posted to us and had done his share of dog handling, so he knew just how tiring the shifts could be.
When all the clocks had been handed in we, as was usual, went off duty. That evening, as we were preparing to leave for the patrol depot the Sgt came to us. He and the I/C of our shift were good friends but the Sgt had never come to see us off before so we were all a bit perplexed. The I/C of the shift and the Sgt went off a short distance and had a conversation that lasted just a few minutes. The shift I/C then rejoined us and we went off to our place of duty.
On arrival, before we could get ourselves sorted into what had become a regular routine the I/C called us all into his office.
“Right, Listen In, Looks As If We Have Been Rumbled. But Luckily My Mate And Not Someone Else Opened The Clocks This Morning And He Quickly Realised What We Have Been Up To, Because As You Know These (pointing to the set of keys that we used to punch the clocks) All Have The Same Numbers As The Ones On The Keys In The Depot.
What We Did Not Know Is That Yesterday Before We Went On Patrol, The Keys Were All Changed From Numbers To Letters.
He Has Said That He Will Not Say Anything Now But If We Are Found Out In The Future He Will Not Lie For Us. So We Will Not Push It. But, We Still Need To Keep Very Quiet About This Because If We Do Get Found Out Then Civvy Street Beckons. So, For Now And The Foreseeable Future It Is Back To Regular Patrolling. I Will Dispose Of The Keys And, Fingers Crossed, We Will Be Ok, So Let’s Get On With It”
So that was that and for the rest of the dog handling tour we did the job by the book and nothing more was ever said about it, in fact after all these years this is the first time that I have ever referred to it.
Other incidents did take place during my Dog handling tour but I will write about those later but in the meanwhile I leave you to watch a video of some guard dog training in Afghanistan.
Until the next time…….