Dispatch From Downrange



Dispatch From Downrange –IRAQ

These were a constant problem. The Iraqi guys would hunt them mainly at night.  I walked up on several of these guys at night being very quiet.  There is always a few moments of "Are these our guys or are these Al Qaida trying to sneak in.


A cobra? Are you kidding me, a friggin cobra?

A couple days before I arrived at my new location in northern Iraq, we suffered a casualty. One of our four-legged partners was very sick and had to be medevac to the veterinary hospital in Bagdad. It took two days to get him there from the time the hospital was notified. In that time things went downhill quickly. Things did not look good, and his handler was doing what he could to make his friend and partner feel better until he could be transferred to Bagdad for help.

Three nights earlier, they were walking the perimeter as is one of our missions here.  In the dark, it is hard to see everything, but there is a well-traveled walkway that we stay on. We check gates, doors and places in the perimeter that could be a hiding place for an explosive.  Al Qaeda terrorists sometimes place explosives on the concrete T-Walls. The picture with this article is my partner searching the exterior of the perimeter. We search for explosives that may have been placed there in an attempt to breach the perimeter. The handler presents the area by placing his hand where he wants his partner to search. This goes on time after time around the three or so mile concrete wall.

This night was no different from normal. The handler presented one of the countless areas to search and the dog obediently checked. On one of the searches, the dog pulled back sharply as he sniffed the area but did not show signs of an alert or anything else.  The night checks continued until the shift was over.

The next morning there was something obviously wrong. The dog was not responding well and wanted to do nothing but lay down. He was not drinking or eating.  The handler, concerned for his partner, checked him all over and found a large lump on the left side of the dog’s neck. It was hot to the touch and clearly was painful.  He washed it off and tried to see if maybe there was a thorn or something. When the hair was brushed back, he could see the swollen lump was open and leaking fluid from two small puncture marks.  Antiseptic was applied, a Benadryl shot was suggested by the vet and administered by the handler, and the dog allowed to rest.  That night the dog became listless and was even more lethargic. A call was placed to the vet in Bagdad, and the situation described.  The vet immediately ordered the dog to be sent to Bagdad for treatment. Getting the dog from here to Bagdad was no easy feat, and it took almost two days to complete.  Upon arrival, it was clear the K-9 was in deep trouble, and there was little time to waste.  Treatment by way of pain relief, fluids, and nutrient support were started as the search for what was wrong commenced.  A blood test confirmed the dog had been bitten by a snake. Many of the snakes here are poison and not just a little bit.  Most snake bites in Iraq either cost a limb or a life; they are that bad. Further testing indicated the snake had most likely been a cobra!

Now when I took the assignment to the middle east, I figured I knew the risks.  Snipers, rocket attacks, IEDs, the occasional suicide bomber and all but I was not prepared for this. A friggin cobra!

Yesterday, engineers were out with heavy equipment moving a large dirt pile away from our area. They had been alerted to the snake incident, and the vector control guy, (exterminator) had found snake tracks going into the hill where there was a high concentration of field mice. We all stood around as the big machines dug into the pile and loaded it onto trucks to be taken away. During that operation, three snakes were uncovered. Two saw tooth vipers and one cobra. All of the snakes were deadly. I say “were” because they are now X-snakes.

Wow, just when you thought it is ok to go outside.  BTW, the dog survived and should be back in a couple weeks after it is strong enough to resume its duties of an explosive detection K-9. Credit goes to the handler who noticed his friend in trouble and to the vet who was sharp enough to figure out what was wrong.

Watching every step,

This is Jon Harris, and this was a

Dispatch from Downrange-Iraq