Honoring Animal War Veterans

Kaiser was a German Shepherd and one of 4,000 dogs who served in the Vietnam War. His handler was Marine Lance Cpl. Alfredo Salazar.

While humans generally get most of the recognition today, animals have helped play an important part in military operations throughout our history. As the New York Times explained, the use of animals for military operations isn’t all that unusual,

  • During the Cold War, the Soviet navy trained dolphins for military use, but the program was discontinued sometime after 1991.
  • The United States Navy has studied marine mammals, including beluga whales, since the 1960s and has trained them to carry out a variety of tasks, like performing recovery operations and finding underwater mines.

In fact, you may have read recently about Conan the German Shepherd who helped accompany Delta Force soldiers into Syria’s Idlib Province to take down ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Animals have many skills that humans can’t replicate with technology but handily rely upon in combat, patrol, and reconnaissance.

 

Marine Mammals To the Rescue: As NatGeo recently wrote, bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions have been trained by the US Navy for decades as the ability of these animals to detect and find targets at depth or in murky water is something technology can’t duplicate yet but which militaries find very valuable. The Navy trains these animals to,

  • Find and retrieve equipment lost at sea and to identify intruders swimming into restricted areas. The dolphins are also used to detect mines that are either buried in the seafloor or floating in the water, tethered to an anchor.

  • Additionally, bottlenose are better than any machine as far as detecting mines and can also do so much faster.
  • Because of their finely-tuned sonar, dolphins can be especially effective close to shore, where crashing surf and ship traffic generates a lot of noise. Mechanical systems can be overwhelmed by all the competing signals, but not dolphins.

  • Sea lions, on the other hand, have excellent eyesight and can spot things that are out of place, like mines, very effectively.

The History: Going back centuries, animals have been used in armed conflict–though unfortunately not always ethically.

Why This Matters: We should remember to honor animal veterans today in addition to the human ones. The bravery of animals helps save countless human lives and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

Go Deeper: Read about these 5 amazing dogs of war and their remarkable stories.

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