CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- Improvised explosive devices remain a major threat to Marines conducting security patrols in Helmand province.
To help mitigate the threat, working-dog handlers and IED detection dogs are used to find possible IEDs before Marines get too close.
“I use Vito to search anything from roads and open areas to vehicles and buildings for IEDs or explosive chemicals,” said Cpl. Taylor Cross, a working-dog handler with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.
As Marines patrol around buildings and compounds, Vito is always in the lead, sniffing around corners and alongside roadways clearing the route ahead.
Cross and the other Marines in the unit rely on Vito’s keen sense of smell for ensuring a safe route while conducting security operations.
“It is very humbling knowing that the guys I work with, along with myself, rely on Vito to keep us safe,” said Cross, a 21-year-old native of Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Vito, a 6-year-old purebred black lab, is trained to detect explosive material, both military and homemade.
During two months of pre-deployment training, Cross and Vito became a part of the battalion.
“The pre-workup training went great,” said Cross. “I was able to integrate Vito into the unit. It was amazing to see Vito’s detecting capabilities and potential to save lives in Afghanistan."
Cross and Vito deployed to Afghanistan together from Twentynine Palms, California, during March 2014.
“Vito has a hardheaded personality, but after working with him for such a long time, he learned to trust me and I learned to trust him and his judgment,” said Cross. “It has been a great learning experience. After taking care of Vito since the beginning of our deployment, he is more than just a working dog to me, he is a part of my life.”