TodayOctober 28, 2021

FIDO: A soldier’s best friend

Dogs in theater

“I don’t think I’m the best person to talk to about Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), said Lt. Col. Paul Peirett. Peirett had been in Iraq in May of 2003, around the same time the IED bombs started. Peirett went on, “You should talk to someone who had to deal with it daily, the insurgency was just growing when I was there.

They still weren’t sure if it was an insurgency or some rebel element. In terms of my feelings about it, I learned that there was no telling when or if you would be selected. It was very random. You were going down a road and all of a sudden a bomb could go off in front of you, or behind you. It brought on a feeling of going from being a hunter to being hunted.

It is quite different; your survival instincts begin to grow. You are no longer a passive person walking down a street, or driving down the street. All of sudden you’re looking at guardrails, you’re looking for wires, you’re looking all the time. You’re on edge all the time, you begin to live like that. I knew from having been in Bosnia that this was not going to be a ride in the park. There were people trying to change their way of life.

There were pockets of people that thought that if we were going to take away their way of life, that they were going to take away ours. My instincts begin to grow, there was a growing insurgency. When I left Iraq I left with a couple of MPs who took the doors off their vehicles and put their shotguns out their windows. I asked them what they wanted me to do, I only had a nine-millimeter. They told me to stick the gun out where everyone could see it. Even the driver had a shotgun propped in his lap, just so that they knew we were ready for action if it was needed.”

MSgt Bell has been over in Iraq and is going back. He has seen friends die driving over an IED. He also knows the feeling of anxiety that Peirett spoke of. Bell was watching lamp poles, watching, always watching, always alert. Bell described it as, “Imagine going into your faucet every morning and turning your hot water on full blast. One day you go into the room and turn the faucet on and it explodes right in your face. How long would it take you before you didn’t feel anxious about turning the faucet on again? It was that random and they were that creative. ”

Major General Roger A. Nadeau, Commanding General, U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM), understand the soldier’s anxiety and spoke to me at the 2005 Association of the United States Army (AUSA) technology convention in Washington D.C. General Nadeau takes these issues very seriously, they are emotional to him as well. These are the unseen problems that make these young men and women age quickly.

Nadeau’s group is the voice of the soldier. They go to him and tell them that they have to do something. Nadeau’s group is also looked at as bureaucrats to the soldiers because RDECOM has to authorize new technology to confront new problems. When they go to RDECOM with these issues Nadeau cant just tells the soldiers they are emotional issues. RDECOM has to bridge the gap between the soldiers and the bureaucracy. If the soldiers aren’t shown a level of confidence that these issues will be fixed then they flinch, they lose trust, and they shouldn’t have to lose confidence.

The first fix was to bring in mine smelling dogs. Jim Pettit, Program Manager of the K-9 mine detection unit came up with the design and development concept three years ago of sending IED dogs over to sniff out the bombs. Pettit explains, “My detection dogs were used in World War II in North Africa and Italy. They were about 4,000 dogs used in Vietnam performing multiple skills such as scouting, watching (sentry), mine detecting and tracking missions. Today the Army is using mine dogs in Afghanistan to help clear areas of land mines to keep soldiers safe in and around base camps. Mine dogs aren’t used to sniff out IEDs, IED dogs are specially trained to sniff out components and IEDs. US Army Specialized Search Dog handler, SSG James Simpson is the first-ever U.S. military handler to work a specialized search dog.

All the dogs have a rank. It’s not to be cute and it doesn’t coincide with the rank of the soldier that handles the dog. US Army Specialized Search Dog handler, SSG James Simpson, and his three-year-old Black Labrador dog, Staff Sargent Cabor spent nine months in Iraq hunting for IEDs. Simpson and Cabor are attached to the Mine Dog Detachment at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. According to Simpson, “When we got over to Iraq, the soldiers already there were very cautious and very aware of their surroundings.

They were taking care of each other and making sure everyone was ready to go. Everywhere they went they were making sure that they kept that level of consciousness up. They were nervous, but they were confident in what they were doing and they trusted in what they were doing and what they were taught.”

“We would take the dogs out to the farms and homes and the dogs could sniff out the IED components and explosives before the IEDs were even constructed. Every IED component and explosive we found, meant we were saving lives.” In September 2005 primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall recognized Cabor as The Bear Search and Rescue Foundation Military working dog of the Year and presented him with an award for service to humanity.

Back in 1996, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sponsored a “Dogs Nose” program to find technology that could emulate the mine-sensing capabilities of dogs. Nomadics and a dozen other companies were funded by Darpa, but Nomadics was the first company to successfully detect buried land mines. Nomadics has created a device that uses a chemical sensing material that was invented at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)that is able to detect minute amounts of explosive vapors emanating from buried land mines. The new hand-held device is called FIDO.

According to Steve Broadway, Vice President of Marketing, Nomadics, an ICX company, “We have FIDO in Iraq undergoing demonstration and test. We also have an integrated system with iRobots PacBot EOD. Three FIDOs/PacBots will go to Iraq for testing this fall, with more to follow. Testing has shown us anecdotally that FIDO accuracy for finding IEDs is comparable to the performance of military working dogs.”

The Army is hoping the technology will help keep the more lives safer; both soldiers and our canine friends.

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Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.

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