The quiet heroes of Australia’s military
TO detect hidden explosives meant to kill them, modern soldiers now have access to robots and electronic sensors among a vast range of technological wizardry.
But the tool they trust more than most is the faithful canine companion that has lived at humanity's side for more than 15,000 years.
Despite years of research, the military is yet to find a replacement for the sniffer dog and its sense of smell - more than 100,000 times better than ours.
Major Kendall Crocker, senior veterinary adviser for the Army, said dogs have saved hundreds of Diggers' lives and remained a critical component of the military.
"The US spent more than $1 billion on projects and they came to the conclusion that the most effective device for detecting explosives in many situations is a dog's nose," he said. "There are still projects on artificial robots and looking at detectors to pick up certain chemicals that are associated with explosives, but a trained dog can learn a new explosive in a matter of an afternoon. They are phenomenal in what they can do."
FOR frontline Australian soldiers, explosives detection dogs and military police dogs are not just lifesavers.
They are also best mates, building unbreakable bonds with handlers who often adopt them as pets when they retire. A large percentage of explosive detection dogs are rescue dogs pulled off death row themselves.
Lance Corporal Rueben Griggs, who has just taken on Bee, a three-year-old male kelpie cross adopted from a western Sydney animal refuge, said there was no doubt about their importance.
"I've seen the devastation an IED can cause and I know that when the dogs are involved and on point, the amount of lives saved by the dogs finding explosives before they are activated is countless," he said.
The ADF officially recognises June 7 as the National Military Working Dog Day and last year began awarding a Defence Canine Operational Service Medal - the first defence force to do so.
The day corresponds with the death of Sapper Darren Smith, 26, and his bomb dog Herbie, who died together in Afghanistan in 2010.
Since 1993, it has been an ADF policy to return all working dogs to Australia. In the event a dog is killed, its ashes are brought home.
Major Crocker said dogs were treated to the same medical care and evacuation procedures as soldiers.