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“A visually delightful romp with military dogs, from heart-melting puppyhood to the battlefield, and beyond.”
~ Maria GoodavageNew York Times bestselling author

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Introduction

 

A Personal Message from the author Jeff Kamen

Family, country, dogs, God and journalism are the great passions of my life. Alongside my four kids, I’ve raised German Shepherd, Newfoundland, and Great Pyrenees Mountain dogs. I believe that God put dogs on Earth to protect us, to show us how to love unconditionally, and to teach us to be fully present in each moment. I’ve always been especially inspired by the lives of America’s Military Working Dogs and their heroic handlers. So, when I was asked to write the book now in your hands, it was the dream assignment of a news career that has taken me across the United States and around the world for more than forty years.

I love my country and deeply respect our military. Doing the story-gathering for Warrior Pups has given me additional optimism about the future of our country in this challenging time. The Defense Department’s Military Working Dog Breeding Program, Puppy School, Dog Training School, Handlers’ Course, Holland Hospital for Military Working Dogs and the Kennel system at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, are wonderful examples of things our government does extremely well. You’re about to visit all those places and connect with their super people.

It was a privilege to be given access to the heavily guarded headquarters of the US military’s K9 program. It took months to negotiate but in the end, the US Air Force let my photojournalist wife Leslie and me go everywhere on the base we wanted to go, and they let us talk to everyone we wanted to interview. At no time did the military attempt to manage us. They didn’t have to because of what they knew deep down: Lackland K9 is a gem that all Americans can be proud of.

Warrior Pups author Jeff Kamen at home photographed by Leslie Stone-Kamen

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Warrior Pups Fact 1

Every year, the Pentagon orders Lackland Air Force Base’s 341st Training Squadron to graduate about 250 dual certified (bomb sniffing/patrol and narcotics detection/patrol) dogs from the Dog Training School which is the canine equivalent of basic training for humans.

Warrior Pups is a joyful collection of contemporary profiles in courage—profiles of the truly dedicated people who play crucial roles in transforming puppies into heroic Military Working Dogs to fight the war against global terror. These are portraits of great love, patriotism, dedication, intelligence, and fun. It all begins in a space that most people will never be allowed to enter. It’s where genetically selected war dogs are bred, where their puppies are born, where the dogs and their human handlers are trained, and where the natural bond between military canines and their human handlers is first nurtured.

Lackland is one of the largest military training facilities in the world. It’s so big that it takes roughly forty miles of security fencing to wrap around it. Thousands of people work there every day. More than 100 of them are dedicated to the breeding, care and training of America’s Military Working Dogs and their human partners.

We were honored to have been invited to base ourselves in the home of an Air Force enlisted couple and their three Belgian Malinois dogs, in rural Devine, Texas, 35 minutes away from Lackland. When they were not on duty, our hosts served as volunteer social media coordinators for the more than one hundred San Antonio area families who foster the Breeding Program’s puppies for almost half a year. The couple patiently educated us and introduced us to other fosters. We shared their lives (respectfully), their dogs (very carefully), and their killer home-grown zucchini bread and sweet Texas chili (with delicious abandon).

My wife and I had three challenges during our time at Lackland: 1) to get close enough to see what really happens in fostering and training, 2) to not get in the way of the trainers, and 3) to not get bitten. Within minutes of our first arrival at Lackland, a senior non-commissioned officer gave us these orders: “Wherever you go, whatever you are observing, don’t get closer to the dogs than fifteen feet!”

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Warrior PupS Fact 2

About 50 of those dogs come from the Pentagon’s Military Working Dog Breeding Program at Lackland; the rest are purchased as adolescents from traditional European dog breeders at a cost of at least $4 thousand per dog.
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Warrior Pups Fact 3

Because the MWD program’s standards are so high there is 30-50 per cent failure rate and that means it takes roughly 100 born-and-bred warrior pups plus about another 300 purchased canines to produce the required 250 certified Military Working Dogs needed each year.

We knew that if our research was to succeed we had to win the confidence of the trainers so they would let us get close to the dogs as they were being trained. At first, the trainers wanted nothing to do with us, but when they decided we were competent, truly cared about their work and were quick enough to get out of the way, they quickly let us into their professional and personal lives.

We followed that non-com down winding roads, out of the base, across a public road, and through security into another section of Joint Base San Antonio. It’s called the Medina Annex and it’s huge. Soon, we were off pavement, bouncing in our rented SUV behind the Air Force truck driven by our guide. His truck came to a stop in the middle of a rough field. He climbed down from the truck, walked up to us and said, “This training area is called The Pit. When you are here observing the dogs as they learn to search for bombs and drugs and do patrol work, keep in mind that this is wild land with real rattlesnakes, real fire ants and real wild boar. So please be aware of your surroundings. You start at the Air Force’s 341st Training Squadron, Dog Training School. Guard Mount is at 0600 sharp, third floor, the building with the big 37 on it and the cool fighter plane with the shark face in front. Got it? Good.”

As he climbed back into his truck, Leslie—who is one very tough, athletic and adventurous person— looked down at the ground and solemnly declared, “Let’s get out of here before the snakes and the wild boar come looking for new friends.”

Leslie took command of the SUV and carefully threaded our way back to Valley Hi Road. Over a quick dinner at a restaurant two blocks outside the main gate, she and I reviewed the day. We felt as though we’d already achieved a small victory—getting safely out of The Pit. We had our thirty-day twenty-four-hour Lackland access passes in our pockets and our first assignment—Guard Mount (morning meeting) at the Dog Training School. That was an eye-opener in many ways.

That’s how our adventure began, and it kept getting better. For over a month, we were privileged insiders on the ground where almost all US Military Working Dogs begin their careers. We got to see the loving teamwork of foster parents, instructors, and handlers from every military service branch. We witnessed the subtle brilliance of the Puppy School and Dog Training School staff. We were allowed to observe the spectacular veterinary team in operation as well as the meticulously organized Kennel support staff.

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Warrior Pups Fact 4

Despite many wonderful advances in technology, only properly trained Military Working Dog teams can reliably safeguard our troops against the threats of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and terrorist ambushes. On average, each American war dog saves 150 human lives during the dog’s career. Saving even one life is good enough for me.

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Warrior Pups Fact 5

These dogs, when partnered with their devoted, well-trained handlers, make the difference between life and death over and over again as they protect our bases, ships, and our units in battle.

We saw young handlers being trained to partner with their first dogs. We went home with trainers and handlers who had seen combat—and couldn’t wait to return to the battle, with a dog, to save the lives of our troops. We lived and socialized with fosters to learn more about their challenging, unpaid service to our country. We spent time with living legends of the US Military Working Dog program.

We also got to experience what we see as a sacred space where true patriotism has nothing to do with politics, race or gender and expresses itself as determined dedication to creating the best possible Military Working Dog teams.

We continue to stay in touch on a daily basis with fosters, trainers and handlers because they have become our friends, not merely the subjects of this book. Even when some handlers are sent overseas, we stay close with the help of Facebook live video and text messaging. As Leslie says, it often feels like we suddenly wound up with a pack of new grandkids who we love. But really, what American wouldn’t love them? Or the great cop in a Texas town who adopted a pup that washed out of the Lackland program only to become a superstar in her new life as a civilian K9. Wait till you meet Officer Clint and his partner, the happy and hugely successful, K9 Neeva. Their chapter is, “Victorious Washout.”

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Warrior Pups Fact 6

The secret ingredient in Lackland’s enormously successful K9 training system turns out to be — love.

Leslie and I enjoyed every moment of the time and space we were privileged to share with the smart, courageous, funny and loving men and women of Lackland K9. Now, it’s your turn!

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