Army K9 and handler honored for discovering IED cache in Syria
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 28, 2020
An Army canine earned rare military honors this month after discovering a cache of explosives in Syria while deployed as part of the U.S.-led mission to defeat the Islamic State.
Fritz, a 4.5-year-old military working dog who joined the kennels at Fort Carson, Colo., in September 2018, was awarded an Army Commendation Medal with “C” device for the achievement under combat conditions, military photos showed.
His handler, Sgt. Michael A. Ramirez with the 1st Brigade Combat team, 25th Infantry Division, who joined the Army K9 program in 2014, earned the same award, said Staff Sgt. Lewis Frederick, military working dog program manager for Operation Inherent Resolve.
The pair were on patrol with a route clearance company and civil affairs team in late November when civilians notified them of “enemy remnants of war” in an open field, Frederick said in a written response to questions from Stars and Stripes.
“While clearing a lane to get to the [remnants], MWD Fritz veered to an area outside of the field, where he showed recognizable change of behavior near a mound of bushes, which resulted in the location of [an explosives] cache,” Frederick said.
It’s the first “known” time a working dog and handler have made such a find since 2018, he said. After the mission, Fritz received extra attention from his handler and extra time with a toy, Frederick said.
On Dec. 18, Inherent Resolve posted a photo on Twitter showing Brig. Gen. Larry Q. Burris Jr. presenting Fritz’s award certificate to Ramirez. Photos also show the ARCOM pinned to Fritz’s collar.
“For exceptionally meritorious achievement,” the certificate states. “Military Working Dog Fritz’s unique abilities were vital to the accomplishment of the security and force protection mission.”
The Army Commendation Medal, created in December 1945, is awarded to service members who distinguish themselves by meritorious achievement or service of the same degree as the Bronze Star Medal. It may be awarded when the operational requirements for the Bronze Star, such as heroism in combat with an armed enemy, are not fully met.
It’s uncommon for an Army canine to receive such an award, Frederick said, and there’s no official regulation that makes pups eligible to receive awards.
He could not say how many honorary commendation medals have been awarded to military working dogs while they were deployed under Inherent Resolve, which began in late 2014. But at least one dog deployed to Djibouti in 2018 and one that served in Iraq before 2014 earned commendation medals for their overseas duties, a review of photos and statements published to the military’s photo repository DVIDShub.net found.
It seems more common for the animals to receive medals upon retirement as recognition for their years of service — at least two retiring Navy bomb-sniffing dogs received such awards this year, and five of their Army and Air Force counterparts have been similarly honored since 2017, a DVIDS search found.
Outside of the military, organizations such as the United States War Dogs Association and the British veterinary charity People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals have also established honors that recognize working dogs.
In addition to sniffing out explosives, dogs like Fritz provide a psychological and physical deterrent while on patrol with their handlers, Inherent Resolve said in a statement emailed to Stars and Stripes.