Dispatch From Downrange
Well here we go!
For the last thirty days, I’ve been working with a new explosion detection dog in preparation for deploying to Iraq. Training is exact and exhaustive. We work problem after problem, searching buildings, stairwells, fields, cars, trucks and more. Then we do it again—and again. After we have completed the training here in the States we are tested by an official from an unnamed government agency. We were never told exactly where he was from. He looked to be in his late forties, fit with a flat top haircut. He had that look of someone that had seen a lot. He set up the tests and observed everything we did. It was strictly up to him and his exacting standards if we were given a green light or not. To say that certification day was stressful would be an understatement. We are tested as a team. Handler and dog must both pass. Not all make it and a failure to certify brings added training and one more chance the next week. Fail that one and your employment is in dire jeopardy. If it is a dog issue, you may get another shot, if you as the handler screw up it is “pack your bags “and you are out. In the world of explosive detection, there are no second chances. It is a zero defect mission or someone doesn’t come home.
My dog is named Mad and is a beautiful German Shepherd. Whoever named him must have had a strange sense of humor. He is from Belgium and was imported to the US for this purpose. Mad is about two years old and this will be his first deployment. Mad will stay by my side, live in my room and go where I go. We will never be separated. In fact, during training Mad has shown a very strong trait of protection. He does not like anyone else to get close to me when he is by my side.
When I fly to Iraq, by way of Jordon, Mad will travel with me. After landing in Jordon, we will fly to Bagdad and then travel to our final destinations. I can’t say where we will end up or how we are getting there but it will be quite an adventure.
I am with a group of about twenty-five contractors. Like me, we all have varied but somewhat similar backgrounds. About fifty percent are former police canine handlers that have decided to take the contracting path. Like me, several felt they were just not able to work within the politics that so many times goes on in the law enforcement community, specially the smaller departments. The rest are mainly former military dog handlers and are now moving to continue their career and be paid what they are worth. Our group ranges from the youngest at twenty-four (a contract age requirement) to the most senior at age fifty-eight. I am fifty-seven by the way so I’m considered one of the old guys. For many of us this is not our first time in the Middle East as contractors. Overall, we are a pretty experienced group.
As you may have heard, Iraq has fallen back into a cycle of sectarian violence. Since the exodus of US combat forces, violence has increased to the highest point in five years. My coworkers and I are headed to the region to secure facilities and personnel we either are directly supporting or securing programs in cooperation with the US and Iraqi government.
Our job will be mainly defensive. We will be searching vehicles, buildings and pathways for IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devises). We will be depending on ourselves for security; we are heavily armed, and counting on – well sort of—the Iraqi security forces that are working alongside us.
So that is the job. I am currently waiting on a visa to travel to Iraq and will be there for at least the next year. The visa is expected within the next few days. After I get my feet on the ground, I will start writing about life and the day-to-day experiences of a contractor in Iraqi controlled territory and what it is like to live and work in this ever-changing war zone. I have been informed that we will have no mail service and that conditions are primitive. Compared to Iraq, my tour time last year in Afghanistan could be called a vacation. This should be interesting.
I’m Jon Harris and this is the first
Dispatch from Downrange -Iraq