Every Heroic Dog Gets Its Day

The military working canines that serve our country so fiercely get some highly deserved attention on a celebration for K9 veterans

by Elizabeth M. Economou | Updated 13 Mar 2018 at 12:12 PM

In times of war and tragedy, heroes emerge, yet they mostly go unnoticed — and K9s are no exception.

Known among the military community as National K9 Veterans Day, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, is set aside to recognize the military working dogs that serve our country so valiantly.

The observance also coincides with the official birthday of the U.S. Army K9 Corps. It was created in 1942 and founded by Joseph White, a retired military working dog trainer.

Since World War II, several thousand service K9s have served in all branches of the armed forces in a variety of roles.

And perhaps no one knows this better than retired Capt. Jason Haag, USMC, CEO and co-founder of Leashes of Valor.

He himself has a K9, Axel, who rarely leaves his side; the Marine veteran did three tours of combat duty. Leashes of Valor, which launched last May, pairs veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) with trained service dogs — which are provided at no cost to veterans.

"Our military's K9 warriors are true lifesavers," said Capt. Haag in a statement. "Each combat service dog saves anywhere from 150 to 200 American lives. Much like the men and women with whom they serve, these dogs are highly trained to seek out threats and neutralize threats. They put their lives on the line to protect our armed forces and often innocent civilians as well."

He said that the handlers who work closely with these animals "often develop deep bonds with them. They share cots, foxholes, food, water, and together, they often perform dangerous missions where they are high-value targets for our enemies."

Haag's effort, however, goes way beyond philanthropy.

For him, it's personal.

"Since retiring from the military, I have worked to help veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury connect with trained service dogs," he said. "I know the difference my service dog, Axel, has made in my life. I have worked with my fellow veterans to help former handlers get reunited with their K9 brothers-in-arms. These handlers and their dogs looked out for each other in combat; now they care for each other at home."

This week, Captain Haag was joined by the NewDay USA Foundation and NewDay Five members in recognizing our country's military working dogs — all of whom achieved the highest enlisted rank in their respective branch of military.

Related: A Message to Those Who Would Kill Police K9s

The elite group of retired service members are these, including (in parentheses) their place in the number of all who have held the position in their respective branches:

  • Vince Patton, Master Chief Petty Officer of the U.S. Coast Guard (eighth)
  • Jim Herdt, Master Chief Petty Officer of the U.S. Navy (ninth)
  • Jack Tilley, Sergeant Major of the U.S, Army (12th)
  • Jim Finch, Chief Master Sergeant of the U.S. Air Force (13th)
  • Al McMichael, Sergeant Major of the U.S. Marine Corps (14th)

"NewDay USA offers heartfelt recognition and thanks to the thousands of dogs who serve our military and selflessly protect our men and women in uniform," said a joint statement in honor of the observance on Tuesday.

"K9 soldiers are used as sentries, IED detectors, for security detail, even for special forces. Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, became famous for taking part in the SEAL Team Six raid that resulted in the death of one of the most infamous terrorists in the world, Osama bin Laden.

"While these K9s keep our servicemen and women safe in the field, they also serve as a morale booster, a source of comfort, and a little bit of home for those deployed overseas. Veteran handlers talk about the special bond they have with their dogs. These handlers rightly view their K9 partners as true brothers-in-arms."

Elizabeth Economou is a former CNBC staff writer and adjunct professor. 

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