Military working dogs in Iraq get a blood bank like their humans have

U.S. Army Sgt. Jason Salazar, a military working dog handler assigned to the K9 Task Force at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, prepares to draw blood from Bubo, a patrol explosive detector dog, at the veterinary clinic at Role II, Oct. 8, 2020.


By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 22, 2020

Military working dog handlers in Iraq have set up a “walking blood bank” for their four-legged partners who help secure bases, hunt explosives and assist in combat missions such as the raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last year.

“The bank will allow for rapid treatment of injured working dogs,” Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition battling ISIS in Iraq and Syria, said on Twitter Wednesday.

Boni, Bubo and Rexo, all patrol explosive detector dogs at Al Asad Air Base, were among the pups who had their blood drawn and tested earlier this month to identify their blood types, online photos show.

“This is the first time [Operation Inherent Resolve] has established a mobile blood bank for military working dogs ... and multi-purpose canines,” said Army Col. Wayne Marotto, a coalition military spokesman.

The canine blood bank was started in response to a policy the Army Medical Command surgeon general’s office issued that requires the service’s veterinarians to record blood types for all working dogs, Marotto said. For human casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military has long relied on “walking blood banks” in which prescreened donors can be called up to give blood at a medical facility in case of a mass casualty event or a trauma patient in need of numerous transfusions.

Blood loss is one of the top preventable causes of combat death. Earlier this year, the Marine Corps also began testing a program in the Middle East modeled on one used by Army Rangers in Afghanistan last year that enables lifesaving transfusions on the battlefield.

The 994th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services Support and medical personnel has set up emergency response capabilities and trained health care providers to ensure the animals receive “the highest level of emergency care,” Marotto said.

Inherent Resolve did not have military canine casualty data, he said. But at least two working dogs in the U.S. Central Command area of operations were medically evacuated following injuries this year, including one from Iraq that suffered cardiac arrest, according to military statements.

Military working dogs like Conan, a Belgian Malinois who was wounded during the mission that killed ISIS leader Baghdadi last October, are “critical members of our forces,” U.S. Central Command boss Gen. Frank McKenzie said last year. Conan had accompanied special operations troops on some 50 missions.

In hot Middle Eastern weather, the availability of donor blood also can be critical for canines off the battlefield. In June, an Air Force pup named Cvoky was rushed by helicopter from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia to Kuwait’s Camp Arifjan after its body temperature reached nearly 110 degrees.

At 104 degrees, dogs begin suffering heat stroke, the Humane Society of the United States website says. Heat injuries can cause internal organ damage and hemorrhage, and few dogs survive if they reach as high a body temperature as Cvoky, a military veterinarian said in a statement after the incident.

But in that case, a pint of blood from a Navy dog named Army helped save his life, the statement said.

“We got the call that my dog, Army, might be a match,” it quoted dog handler Petty Officer 2nd Class Sera Tamez as saying. “It feels really good to help one of our own!”

Twitter: @chadgarland

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael Jorgensen, right, a veterinarian technician with the 994th Medical Detachment Veterinary Service, shows how to identify the cephalic vein on a dog to Spc. Mezghan Akbar, left, a medical laboratory specialist with the 466th Medical Company, Area Support, New York National Guard, before she draws blood from Boni, a patrol explosive detector dog assigned to the K9 Task Force at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Oct. 7, 2020. Boni, a German Shepherd, was scheduled to have blood drawn so that the veterinary clinic can identify her blood type and initiate a walking blood bank for military working dogs