Did you know that man's best friend actually ranks higher in the military than man himself? Canine units are trained to take down dangerous suspects, sniff out bombs, weapons or drugs and a host of other duties best performed by dogs.
Army Sgt. James Hurt and Sgt. Zachary McNew are canine handlers at Fort Huachuca near Tucson. Every day, they put the dogs through their paces, setting up various scenarios for them to navigate. They practice everything from traffic stops to full-on combat.
"I've absolutely loved every minute since I've done it," says McNew. "I found my calling in life. I don't ever want to do anything else."
What inspires such devotion?
The relationship between soldier and dog is particularly special. Their mission, especially during war, is very serious. A canine team is the first to go into any situation, scouting out explosives and weapons.
"So 40 guys are following this one dog, putting their faith and trust that this dog's going to find an explosive device and keep them safe for the day," explains Hurt.
Their training is intense. And it always positive, full of praise. Each handler is responsible for his dog's welfare. In fact, the dog even outranks its handler.
"I just interpret what he tells me, so the dogs outrank the handler by one rank," Hurt says. "So, me being a sergeant, my dog is a staff sergeant."
Not everyone who wants to be a dog handler can be one, especially if they're missing one key body part: the spleen. While this may seem surprising, Hurt explains that "the human spleen actually prevents any diseases being passed from a dog to a human."
Most of these dogs have been deployed to war zones. When they are home, they train every single day with their handlers in preparation for the next time they are called to serve.
"We're a very tight-knit team," McNew says of his dog. "He would absolutely do anything for me, as I would for him."
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