1st Cavalry News
‘Man’s Best Friend’ saves lives in Diyala
By Spc. Ryan Stroud
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs
MUQDADIYA, Iraq (July 24, 2007) — A group of Soldiers need to clear a tall, dark building, possibly housing terrorists in the city of Muqdadiya, just north of Baqouba, Iraq. The Soldiers have received reports of booby-traps in the area and are unsure if the building itself is a trap. What are they to do?
This is where the Soldier’s four-legged friend, Nero, comes in.
Nero is a military working dog serving with Staff Sgt. Zeb Miller, his handler, at Forward Operating Base Normandy, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08. Nero’s job – search the building, its doorway and the surrounding area, making sure no explosives are around to harm the Soldiers trying to clear the building.
With Nero’s efforts, and the efforts of many other military working dogs serving in Iraq, Soldiers’ lives are being saved everyday.
“Our job out here in Iraq is mainly searching for explosives,” said Miller, a member of the 7th Security Forces, U.S. Air Force, attached to 6-9 Armored Reconnaissance Squadron, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
“Our job is to make a Soldier’s job go faster,” Miller, a native of Johnson City, Texas, said.
“A dog can search for explosives ten times faster than we can because he can smell it,” he said. “Plus, if the dog smells the explosives, it could save a Soldier’s life.”
Miller started working with Nero in March after he volunteered to serve in Iraq. Once arriving, the two became close, inseparable friends.
“I’ve had Nero since March when I volunteered to come to Iraq,” said Miller. “This was a nice change being out here at FOB Normandy with the Army because the Air Force is more force protection. Out here with the Army, I get to go out on missions and take part in the war.”
But before the duo can take part in missions, Nero has to exercise and train to stay on top of his game.
“On a normal day, we try to train the dogs to keep them [prepared for missions],” Miller said. “I will take explosives out and train the dog in searching and finding. We also have a dog obstacle course that we take the dogs out to keep them [healthy] and active.
“At night, I’ll take Nero out and we’ll walk around fenced areas so he can sniff around; simple things to keep the dogs ready,” he continued.
These training techniques keep Nero fresh and ready to go when he’s need for a mission into the heart of danger, something Miller and Nero are used too.
“Our big thing is palm grove searches and weapons cache searches,” Miller said. “That’s really big for us; those are the main things we look for on missions – buried weapons.
“Nero will also search doorways and buildings before Soldiers will breach it,” Miller continued. “[Insurgents] try to booby-trap doors and Nero can search the door to find any explosives waiting.”
But Nero can also be used for other tasks to help out the units in 6-9 ARS.
“Nero is also trained to find people,” said Miller. “One mission, we went searching for IEDs and also searching through houses. Nero just took off running behind one of the houses and into the palm groves.
“What we guess happened is he smelled someone who had just left the house but [was gone],” Miller continued. “We found fresh tracks in the ground, so someone might have been there waiting until they heard Nero coming.”
With Nero on a mission, Soldiers can trust him to smell and sense things they couldn’t imagine. Nero becomes a living weapon, just like the Soldiers, ready to quickly “get his prize.”
“They say one dog is worth about ten Soldiers, not in their capabilities, but in their senses,” said Miller about the importance of military digs during a mission.
“These dogs, while searching for explosives and other weapons, can turn a [several] hour job into one hour worth of work,” he said.
But what also makes Nero an interesting military dog, is unlike some, Nero is extremely friendly, something Miller is happy with.
“The first thing [trainers] tell you is this is not a dog, it’s a piece of equipment,” Miller explained. “But it comes down to each handler in how they treat their dog.
“The way I see it, if I love the dog, he will love me; and in return, he will work for me and possibly save me when I need it,” he said.
“You’re not supposed to let others pet the dog either because it’s a bond challenger,” continued Miller. “But, I’d rather let the Soldiers pet and play with him so they are comfortable around Nero when we go out on missions.
“I also think this helps Nero in case something was to happen to me out here; another Soldier could take him and he would be okay without me around to guide him,” he said.
But Miller has no worries at all about Nero. Miller says Nero knows who his owner is and will listen when called upon.
“I know Nero will listen to me even with others around,” said Miller. “Once you spend every day together, he knows who I am; he will listen to me if I tell him to do something.”
Though Nero is a calm, mannered dog, Miller said he has commands for Nero which will instantly switch Nero from the polite dog he is into an attack-mode destroyer.
“They’re two words I could use to have him immediately start barking at you and if you show any fear, you would get bit,” he said. “These dogs are amazing; they are incredibly smart.”
When the deployment is over and it’s time to go home, there is a chance Nero will have to retire, though Nero himself will probably have a few years of service left before it’s his time. In these cases of retirement, the hard-working military dogs will go through a series of tests to make sure they are ready for life outside the combat zone.
“The dogs have to go through a physiological evaluation,” said Miller. “They test the dog with situations like neighbors fighting. They test the dog to see what he will do and to make sure he will be safe around others.
“It’s hard to let go of your dogs,” Miller somberly explained. “The first dog is always the hardest. But after the dog retires, there’s a possibly that you can keep your dog.”
Until its Nero’s time to retire, he will continue to provide his services to those serving overseas with him; saving lives on each mission he partakes in.
Staff Sgt. Zeb Miller, 7th Security Forces, U.S. Air Force, attached to 6-9 Armored Reconnaissance Squadron, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, pets his military working dog, Nero.
Nero trains for missions by completing a dog obstacle course and by training to find explosives. Nero specializes in locating explosives and helping Soldiers before they enter a building by “sniffing it out” before the Soldiers breach the door on missions. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan Stroud, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs)
Nero is a beautiful Animal/Soldier and I am glad we have him to help protect our men and women!