Photo Information

Cpl. Jeremiah Gerber of the Military Working Dog Platoon, Headquarters and Support Company, 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force, leads his drug detection dog, “Rocky,” as he detects a hidden target buried underneath their current position during a training exercise aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., Sept. 9, 2015. Exercises like this are designed to help military working dogs familiarize themselves with the scent of potentially harmful substances that they may have to track in the field. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pvt. Robert Bliss/Released)

Photo by Pvt. robert bliss

A Marine’s best friend

28 Sep 2015 | Pvt. Robert Bliss I Marine Expeditionary Force

The air gave a slight breeze, a thin layer of dust rolled over the landscape, and a tail wagged eagerly back and forth. This tail was no ordinary tail. It belonged to none other than Robby, a drug detection dog for the military and a loyal Marine companion with several deployments under his collar. Robby has a storied history with the Corps and is responsible for the largest drug bust on record for a detection dog in Afghanistan.

Trainers with I Marine Expeditionary Force keep his senses sharp by conducting drug detection training exercises aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif. These exercises are conducted by placing synthetic drugs in sealed canisters and hiding them on the training grounds.

While Robby may be one of the most accomplished drug detection dogs in the military, one of the primary functions of military working dog platoons is finding bombs.

“Since the introduction of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, our occupation’s mission has been to detect explosives for deployed units,” said Cpl. Colton Clemans, the lead combat tracking dog trainer for the Military Working Dog Platoon, Headquarters and Support Company, 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, I MEF. “Military working dog platoons serve as an augment to units in the field. Explosive detection dogs and their handlers would go out in front of the unit to detect hidden explosive devices and then an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit would come up from behind and safely detonate those devices.”

The platoon, although instrumental in current operations and modern warfare, is not without its history. Military working dogs have been utilized during, and even before, the Vietnam War. Many veterans still have a deep affection and respect for the dogs.

“We’ve had handlers from the Vietnam era stop by the kennels to visit the dogs and see how the kennel has changed over the years,” said Clemans. “The kennel has obviously changed a lot since then, but the working dogs have been a part of Camp Pendleton for quite some time.”
The veterans still feel a connection to the dogs and their desire to visit kennels on base proves the strength of the bond between handlers and their dogs.

“Every dog handler will say that their dog is their best friend,” said Clemans. “In a deployment setting, your dog is who you rely on, they’re just as loyal as your fellow Marines.”

The loyalty Clemans spoke of is evident in the training exercise involving Robby and his handler. Both parties work in tandem, swiftly executing detection drills and locating the targets.

“We rely on our dogs 100 percent out there, they are the primary asset” said Sgt. Dustin Ruiz, a trainer for the Military Working Dog Platoon. “There has to be that trust there, it’s the dog’s eyes, ears, and nose that are going to find the target and accomplish the mission. We trust them with our lives.”

Marines of the Military Working Dog Platoon were all smiles as Robby successfully located the last of the targets. With the day’s training exercise completed, Robby’s tail wagged vigorously as he was rewarded with a treat for another day well done. As handlers and their four-legged partners wrapped up for the day, they both left with more experience, but also a sense of mission completion and a closer bond.