View Full Version : Four legs take to Djiboutian sands

07-21-04, 08:01 AM
Four legs take to Djiboutian sands
Submitted by: Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa
Story Identification #: 20047176471
Story by Cpl. Jeff M. Nagan

CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti (July 13, 2004) -- Rexie is seven years old, and a U.S. Marine to boot.

He never went to recruit training or had to complete the infamous Crucible, but he is just as much a Marine as those who do. One of the biggest differences between Rexie and his compatriots is that he is willing to work for nothing more than a rubber ball and some old-fashion attention.

Rexie, a German shepard, is one of several military working dogs deployed here since June to assist in force protection measures by searching vehicles and people entering the gates.

“They are a force protection multiplier,” said Capt. Frank Diorio, commanding officer, India Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. “They enhance our security presence with the skills they bring to the table.”

The dogs and their handlers aid the sentries, said Lance Cpl. Kevin E. Kollasch, military working dog handler for Force Protection. The dogs’ acute sense of smell may detect such things as explosive devices that may not be seen with human eyes.

The dogs are another weapon in the Marine Corps arsenal to counter terrorism and strengthen security, Diorio said.

Throughout each day and night, military working dogs and their handlers are always on call or already on scene, searching to make sure nothing suspicious makes it through the base gates.

“The dogs are able to find the most common explosives used worldwide,” said Kollasch, who hails from Algona, Iowa. “You can run but you can’t hide from our dogs’ noses — it’s just that simple.”

Although nothing has been found entering the gates, the chance does exist, Kollasch said. In addition to searching vehicles, the dogs act as a physical deterrent by being present when someone enters the gates.

“This is a real world mission,” Kollasch said. “What we do here really makes a difference. We are protecting all those on this base.”

Besides being in a potentially hostile situation, Djibouti, Africa, is also a harsh environment. Daily temperatures higher than 120 degrees throughout the year can pose a serious risk to the dogs.

“Imagine being in a fur coat and having to climb on top of things,” Kollasch said. “That’s pretty much what it’s like for the dogs out here.”

Since dogs cannot sweat, the only way they can cool down is by panting, Kollasch said. It only takes a few minutes outside before the dogs start panting. Just like their human sidekicks, the canines must overcome the heat by acclimatizing to the drastic temperatures.

“We work four-hour shifts,” Kollasch said. “We also try to keep them in the air conditioned vehicle as much as we can.”

Military working dogs and their handlers are a team, Kollasch said. The dog cannot do the job alone, and without the dog, the handler cannot either.

“We have to know our dogs and build a relationship,” Kollasch said. “Since the dog cannot talk, we must be able to look at them and know if they are sick or something is wrong.”
Kollasch and Rexie, as many handlers will say, are more than a team. Kollasch knows about the health of his dog, right down to the small pain that bothers Rexie near the base of his spine. Rexie can also sense when something is wrong in his handler, according to Kollasch.

“Emotions travel down leash,” said Kollasch. “If the handler is having a bad day, the dog will too.”

Military working dogs, like all dogs, have certain requirements to remain happy and healthy. Kollasch keeps Rexie happy with abundant amounts of attention and an occasional game of football.

“We try to play with our dogs each day as much as we can,” Kollasch said. “Rexie is fairly laid back, but when I tell him to do something he does. He has a lot of energy when he’s working.”

The handlers and their canine companions will be here assisting the gate sentries until early next year. According to Diorio, together, they work hard making sure that nothing gets past the dogs and their noses.


CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti -- Lance Cpl. Kevin E. Kollasch, military working dog handler for Force Protection, keeps his dog Rexie, a seven-year-old German shepard, on a short leash after a person comes to close while exiting the base Saturday. Photo by: Cpl. Jeff M. Nagan